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May 25, 2004

The Culture of the Veil.

Perhaps SWWBO and "S" have a point... and, as Aaron observes, I'm just being too easy on 'em.

From Steven Vincent's piece in today's National Review Online:

...We were sitting outside the British military base at Basra International Airport, waiting for soldiers to open the gate. The afternoon was hot, a desert wind blowing dust and grit across the asphalt. As the boredom mounted, a trucker stood and crossed the roadway. Looming over Nour, he snapped something in Arabic, causing her expression to fall and her body to flinch as she curled her legs beneath her. As the trucker strode back to his companions, I asked Nour what he'd said. "He demanded that I sit more like a respectable Muslim woman," she replied in an embarrassed voice. Angered at the man's effrontery, I rose to confront him, only to be halted again by Nour's demurrals. "You'll only cause me trouble." Sadly, she was right. Convening a one-man Morals Police for the sole purpose of humiliating a woman, the trucker had acted in the name of the force we had no defense against: Islam.

A small incident, perhaps — yet it's hard to overstate its symbolism, or the problems its portends for Iraq's future. Something frightening lies at the heart of this nation, I've come to understand, something dark, irrational, thuggish, especially among the "ignorant men" of its lower classes. In public, it often takes the forms of a weaponized stare that glowers at an unescorted woman — or a woman accompanied by a foreigner — as if yearning to see her disgrace herself, do something scandalous or un-Islamic, in order to fuel invidious gossip and innuendo. In private, it manifests itself in the threat, and frequently the reality, of violence to restrain and subjugate females. To accommodate and placate this malevolence, Iraqi females learn to repress their own behavior and instincts, while safeguarding their most important social possession — reputation.

One wonders why the left, especially, seems to want to defend this culture, even elevate it, while at the same time casting fundamentalist christians into the ninth ring of the leftist version of hell?

It is impossible to grasp the psychic claustrophobia this attitude creates for women without actually experiencing it. One afternoon, Nour and I took a boat ride down the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. The pilot, a barely literate teenager, insisting on turning around and looking at us, as if supervising our behavior. Irritated by his glare, I suggested to Nour we ask the kid — or even pay him — to face the front of the boat. "Oh no!" she protested. "Then he'll think we are really doing something scandalous and he'll tell his friends and I'll never be able to take a boat ride again." For most of the trip, we sat under the teen-ager's gaze, trying to ignore it. As we disembarked, Nour muttered, "Now you see why I hate these ignorant men?"

She's not alone. The rage and despair women feel toward religious and social customs is palpable. Take TV newscaster Najiah Abdulsala. On camera, the attractive Basran reads the news sans scarf. "I know it's against Islam, but I don't care — it's my choice!" she told me at her office. On the streets, however, Najiah is careful to wear hijab. "Religious men verbally assault me and I've received warnings from the Islamic parties," she said angrily. "Fortunately, I am marrying and my husband is taking me to Kuwait." Another Basran is not so lucky. She told me how her four brothers dominate every aspect of her life — when she can leave home, with whom, for how long. "If I run away, they will track me down and kill me." Once, when they discovered that she planned to marry without their permission, they beat her so badly they broke her arm.

I don't get it. Obviously.

Wahabism Delenda Est.

The whole piece is here.