Friday, September 14, 2007

Human chattel

Human chattel

Houzan Mahmoud

May 2, 2007 11:30 AM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/houzan_mahmoud/2007/05/human_chattel.html

Once again the murderers of women in Kurdistan in Iraq have committed a crime. This incident, however, was uniquely barbaric. On April 7, 2007, Doa - a sweet, 17-year-old girl - was dragged out in broad daylight and publicly stoned to death. This girl's "crime" was to fall in love with an Arab Muslim man. Doa herself had a background in the Kurdish Yazidi faith. Thus, according to the bigoted values of this belief system, she was not allowed to marry someone from outside her "tribe and religious sect".
Reports suggest that Doa had left her family home three months earlier, to live with the man she loved. She gave up her religion, ethnic identity and even her family to go and share love, passion and her life with another. This was a brave decision. She took it in a heavily religious and patriarchal society that considers women as private possessions and inferior sub-humans.
Men of the Yazidi faith in Bashiqa, near Mosel, organised the handover of Doa from the place where she was secretly living with her boyfriend. They gathered in a crowd of nearly 1,000 men, at the scene of the planned execution.
They dragged her out and tore her skirt in order to shame and humiliate her. Men pushed her to the ground and kicked her in the back and stomach. Others repeatedly battered her head with a large stone. Her face was covered in blood and - despite her state of shock - she cried out for help. Not one of these men had enough humanity to step in and prevent this outrage. They became a pack of angry monsters.
In fact, hundreds of them celebrated. They whistled and some filmed her grisly death, to be uploaded later. She was stoned, kicked and battered until she died in agony. And as her sweet heart - full of life and love - stopped beating, these men rejoiced in the cleansing of the "shame" from the supposed honour of Yazidis.
This "cleansing" was a horrific, inhumane and disgraceful murder. Now Islamist terror groups are cynically using this crime for their own purposes. They have been promising to retaliate and kill Yazidis. The truth is more sordid. Soon after Doa's stoning, 21 Yazidi workers from a textile factory were killed by Islamists on their way back from work - another horror and a cowardly outrage.
Women in Iraq and Kurdistan are victimised even in the way death finds them. Each year, hundreds of women are being murdered deliberately by their husbands, brothers, fathers, or - as in Doa's case - by men from their own faith. Women are less than commodities in Kurdish society. The patriarchal and tribal nature of the authorities in this region has created a climate where violence and degradation against women are almost accepted daily practices. Civil and individual freedoms cannot exist when one's gender means that one has no right to live as an autonomous human being, when one is not a individual in a community, but the chattel of others, a symbol of male "honour", that can be soiled and disposed of, like a rag.
In such a society, sexual purity is a condition for women's survival. Falling in love according to one's own inclinations is forbidden. Although this is not explicitly enshrined in law, the daily incidence of women's suicide, murder and stoning are evidence enough of the true state of affairs. These silenced voices scream out that women find this barbarism intolerable. That they want to break the invisible sanctions on their lives, set themselves free to experience love ... even if only once in their lives.
The stories of thousands of women who have been brutally killed in this region over a period of years are salutary examples. They crossed a line. They dared to express some individual freedom and a measure of choice over their own sexuality. They even had the temerity to choose a sexual partner according to their own desires.
I condemn these brutalities against women and have dedicated my life to fight for their liberation. I feel a great bitterness that many of those young women who wanted to rebel and protest against tribal, religious and patriarchal barriers, are now dead. Doa, and many others who had their lives taken from them, are alive in our hearts.
The only solution is the continuing global fight for our rights and the solidarity of our friends, our brothers and sisters internationally. We have launched an international campaign to ensure the criminals are punished and to outlaw all kinds of violence against women in Kurdistan.
We need international support and your continuing solidarity to win this battle you can sign our petition here.

Please publicise this appeal and forward it far and wide. It needs to reach millions of people so that the world learns that this is what women endure when they chose to be free and live with dignity.

We say no to a medieval Kurdistan

We say no to a medieval Kurdistan

Houzan Mahmoud

April 13, 2007 8:30 AM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/houzan_mahmoud/2007/04/the_fight_for_secularism_in_ku_1.html

Around seven months ago, a draft constitution for the Kurdistan region was made available for discussion, suggestions and amendments. Article seven of this proposed constitution states: This constitution stresses the identification of the majority of Kurdish people as Muslims; thus the Islamic sharia law will be considered as one of the major sources for legislation making.
It is clear to the world that in those countries where sharia law is practised - or simply where groups of Islamic militias operate - freedom of expression, speech and association is under threat, if not totally absent. The rights of non-Islamic religious minorities are invariably violated and women suffer disproportionately.
The implementation of sharia law in Kurdistan would be the start of new bloody chapter in the Islamists' history of inhuman violence against the people, of oppression sanctioned by religious law.
In truth, sharia law contains explicit legal prescriptions that justify the violation of women's rights, specifically when it comes to family matters such as inheritance, marriage, divorce and custody of children.
Violent acts against women are already practised in Kurdistan. For decades, Kurdish women have been denied rights and have been oppressed due to patriarchal and religious cultures. Women in Kurdistan are still caught between the "values" of Islamic teaching and the desire for liberation. Thousands of women have been murdered in so-called honour killings, and the slaughter goes on to this day.
Women "self-burning", being forced into marriage and being denied the right to choose a partner are widespread. According to the Kurdistan human rights ministry, more than 533 women are reported to have committed suicide over the past year alone.
Historically, women played an important role in Kurdistan in all political, social and economic spheres, and still do so today. However, this did not win them civil and individual freedoms, owing to the dominant culture of religious patriarchy. A male relative is still entitled to make the decisions for "his" women, and impose his will upon them.
Just recently Iraq's central government passed a law denying women the right to apply for passports without the consent of a male relative. This has all the appearance of treating women as somehow inferiors, or even minors, who need to be "looked after" by "responsible" males.
Here and now in Kurdistan we are facing the forced Islamisation of people's lives. This draconian draft proposed constitution has prompted an international response. Along with five others, I launched a campaign to bring together all those who believe in secularism, and who therefore demand the removal of Article seven, to fight this reactionary clause, which would allow the Islamists to use official state law to justify their crimes against the women of Kurdistan.
Our campaign created a huge and unprecedented debate at the very heart of our society, a debate that has found expression in the Kurdish parliament. We gathered many signatures and support letters from political parties, civil society organisations and women's organisations in Kurdistan and worldwide.
I travelled back to Kurdistan in order to meet with two other members of our campaign, Sozan Shehab, member of the Kurdistan parliament, and Stivan Shamzinani, a journalist, to present our petition calling for removal of article seven to the Kurdistan parliament.
We met the committee responsible for the writing of the constitution and we held a press conference in the parliament buildings. Our campaign and our unequivocal demand for secularism became big news in Kurdistan and we were featured in the national papers and on TV channels, radio and websites.
The media attention given to our campaign panicked the Islamists, and just few days after our visit to parliament they launched a counter-campaign. They have announced their intention to "campaign to retain the Islamic identity of the Kurdish people". They have started to propagate the nonsense claim, via their various media outlets, that we want to impose secularism and forcibly deny people any right to express their identity as Muslims. Of course, this is simply another cowardly lie from a group of reactionaries who have been put on the back foot by our campaign's successes.
The demand for secularism - and a movement that fights for it as a cause - is now a reality in Kurdistan. It has divided the society between two poles: those who want a secular society with space and freedom accorded to all religions and schools of thought, and those who have a programme of the imposition of political Islam on every aspect of our lives.
Our campaign for the removal article seven has opened a new chapter in the fight for secularism and against the medievalism and obscurantism of sharia law.
This struggle marks a particularly bright period in Kurdistan's contemporary history. It is an historic movement for human dignity, for freedom of religions and other forms of thought, for women's equality and human rights.
It is worth mentioning that without international support and solidarity, our campaign would simply not have been as successful as it has. Therefore, I call on all freedom-loving people worldwide to give consistent and unconditional support to important fights of this kind.
Our unity and worldwide solidarity does make a huge difference. It always leaves an impact. My thanks to all who stood with us in our struggle. We will continue with our fight until we win and push sharia law back to where it belongs - in the dark ages.

It's not a matter of choice

It's not a matter of choice

Houzan Mahmoud

October 7, 2006 10:30 AM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/houzan_mahmoud/2006/10/wearing_the_veil_has_never_bee.html


The veil is not merely a piece of "cloth", but a sign of the oppression of women, control over their sexuality, submissiveness to the will of God or a man. The veil is a banner of political Islam used, to segregate women born by historical accident in the so-called "Islamic World" from other women in the rest of the world.
I could never have imagined having anything in common with Jack Straw, but I find myself in agreement with him about how it feels talking to a woman covered up in hijab or the "niqab" that covers women fully.
However, I think he has discovered this rather late; in fact, the whole British government is late in drawing attention to this growing phenomenon. Women covering up their entire bodies, young boys becoming suicide bombers and the ever growing demands of religious organisations in the UK to implement Islamic sharia law when it comes to "Muslim family affairs".
Jack Straw's government has always been proud of its "multicultural society", in which all kinds of backward and anti-human cultures are respected and given space by the state. Women from an Islamic background will be among the most oppressed.
Celebrating "different cultures" the existence of mosques and religious schools is a place for brainwashing the young people with Islamic values which can only produce political Islamists.
A ghettoised lifestyle, isolated communities, lack of integration and institutionalised racism are all part and parcel of this growing number of brain-washed young generation of girls and boys defining themselves by their religious identity.
Political Islamists are seeking to unify youth from a variety of backgrounds around the project of a "jihad" under which the whole world will be dominated and ruled according to the "ethics" of Sharia law.
More than ever I hear many women claiming that wearing the veil, burqa or niqab is their own choice. I totally reject this view. Not wearing the veil can create harsh problems for women - if it doesn't cost them their life, as in Iraq, it can cost them long-term isolation from their community, with those considered "loose women" having less chance of getting a "decent marriage", and less chance of going out and entering education. When a family sees this as a threat to their "honour", it can have disastrous consequences. The policies of cultural relativism have claimed the lives of many women in the UK, with their killers not properly brought to justice because "culture" and "religion" are taken into account by the courts. Women's rights are universal. A criminal must be sentenced according to the law, not on religious and cultural grounds.
Imagine if a girl has been told to wear the veil from as early as four or five years old, where is the choice in this? If you are born and open your eyes in an environment that imposes Islamic values, norms and lifestyles, alienated from the rest of society, how easy is it to make another choice? I understand why girls would veil, but I cannot see it as anything other than a solitary confinement prison.
The government's endless funding to promote religious activities and run religious schools must be ended. We need a secular education system: universal standards must be applied to all schools and educational institutions. I want my daughter to learn about the wealth of human art, literature, music and science, not religion and the joys of "different religious cultures". Children know no colour, race or religious segregation; they are all friends and part of the same community - until parents impose their beliefs on them.
The veil should be banned for under-aged girls and children must be protected from abusive - yes, that is right, abusive - parents who seek to impose their religion on them.
Having a society free from politicised religion is the precondition for women's freedom and progress. In the west where religion has been pushed back and separated from the state, we see women are more free and equal to men as compared to the countries where Islam is dominant.
In Iraq we have witnessed widespread terror and violence against women who refuse to wear the veil. In Iraq the veil is being imposed at gunpoint - the only choice women are offered is to obey.
In Iran women are lashed or sometimes stoned to death for expressing their simple right to exercise human desires. The Islamic Republic has been repressing women for almost three decades now. Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia: we witness how women's oppression and terror against women is top priority for every Islamic regime, whatever its stripe.
Therefore: the veil is not merely a piece of cloth, but a political statement, the banner of a political movement, political Islam, in the Middle East, Europe and worldwide. We must take a firm stand against this by demanding secular laws, secular education and equality for all.
Religion must be privatised! Religion is a personal matter and should not be brought into everyday life. Criticising all religions is our right; freedom of expression should not be compromised.