Yasmin Alibi-Brain on Islam, women and justice

Update (6th May): The Independent printed a letter from me in response. See here - it’s the third section down, under “Don’t blame Islam for these injustices”. ما شا الله

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Who’d be female under Islamic law? - Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent

This appeared in the Independent today (I normally read the Guardian, as you all probably know, but I generally stop to browse some of the other papers while approaching the supermarket checkout) and, while I don’t expect Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to say anything positive about Islam or Islamic law, this is so obviously full of red herrings that its printing should be a mystery (but isn’t). Her examples include the recent hanging of Delara Darabi in Iran, the imprisonment of Roxana Saberi in Iran, and the story of Rania al-Baz, the Saudi TV presenter who was battered by her husband.

None of these cases has anything to do with Islam, and all could happen in most countries, and all but the third could happen to a man as well as a woman. Delara Darabi, by all accounts, is not innocent. She confessed to having committed a murder against an elderly relative of hers, one which was, so she says, really committed by her boyfriend. She did this because the boyfriend told her that she would get a lesser penalty because she was a juvenile; Iran, clearly, does not recognise the doctrine that 17-year-olds are juveniles, and should be treated any less harshly than an 18-year-old when they murder someone for money. Her action makes her an after-the-fact accessory to a murder. She would be imprisoned in any country, although I accept that she would not be hanged. It is also possible that a prosecutor might persuade a jury that her actions indictated complicity, in which case she might get a hefty sentence for a “joint enterprise” murder.

In some American states, that would lead to a sentence of life without parole, even for a 17-year-old. The law of “felony murder” applies in numerous US states, and has led to people — male and female, juvenile and adult — getting life without parole for murders which took place somewhere other than where they were, regardless of whether they were themselves armed or knew that the killer was armed; all that mattered was that they intended to commit a crime. It has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with politics. Somebody powerful wanted this woman dead, probably to save face. In America, prosecutors want to get results, to look good.

Darabi’s murder conviction rested on an uncorroborated, retracted confession, which in fact has no weight in the Shari’ah: you can find evidence for this in Malik’s Muwatta, probably among other places (the third report down, on this page). Such confessions, often extracted under “pressure” (meaning beatings or sleep deprivation) in police stations, have been the cause of a number of well-known miscarriages of justice in the UK: the Guildford Four, Stephen Downing, Stefan Kiszko and many others. If the Shari’ah had been followed correctly, Delara Darabi would not have been hanged, although she might still be in prison for assisting a murderer and perverting the course of justice.

Next, the case of Roxana Saberi, who has been imprisoned for spying in Iran. Alibi-Brain calls her beautiful, as if that had any relevance to the case (I suspect that she would not care if this had happened to a man, as I’m sure it has). Supposedly, the Iranian authorities decided to stitch her up because she was seen buying a bottle of wine. However, obtaining or drinking alcohol is unlawful for everyone in Islam, not just for women, so how is this relevant to the situation of women in Iran, or in the Muslim world? I am sure she is not the first journalist to be prosecuted for spying in a police state, and I don’t doubt that most of the victims have been male. She may well be innocent, but that does not mean she was prosecuted for being a woman.

Then she tells us of the equally irrelevant case of Rania al-Baz, whose battered face is probably better known than her usual one. The attack and injury she suffered was shocking, but the country was obviously not so repressive that a woman’s face could not be seen (albeit with hijab) on a national TV channel. However, the battering of wives by men and children by adults is not exactly confined to Saudi Arabia, or even to Muslim countries, and most of the Muslims I know do not consider Saudi Arabia to be a good example of an Islamic state or society anyway. Its problems are widely discussed, and the state is openly ridiculed. Only its partisans and those on its payroll consider it to be anything other than an embarrassment and many of us cringe to see its practices — even when they are unique — confused with proper Islamic practice. In case Yasmin Alibhai-Brown hasn’t noticed, women drive in most Muslim countries. Even in Iran.

No article by this woman on women in “Islam” would be complete without a dig at Muslim women in the west:

There have been enlightened times when some Muslim civilisations honoured and cherished females. This is not one of them. Across the West - for a host of reasons - millions of Muslims are embracing backward practices. In the UK young girls - some so young that they are still in push chairs - are covered up in hijabs. Disgracefully, there are always vocal Muslim women who seek to justify honour killings, forced marriages, inequality, polygamy and childhood betrothals. Why are large numbers of Muslim men so terrorised by the female body and spirit? Why do Muslim women encourage this savage paranoia?

Can anyone point me to an article by a woman defending these things? What I hear is Muslim women defending the right to wear hijab, and to work and receive education in it. Muslims do defend polygamy, rightly as it is allowed in Islam, but it is not popular even among practising Muslim women, and marriage contracts which allow a woman to leave the marriage in the event of it are well-known. She accuses Muslim women of “a crime against their sisters who have no such choices in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere” by wearing a “burka” when going to the park when they don’t have to, but in some countries, Muslim women have no choice but to remove headscarves and long coats. As with so many other secular feminists, she respects choice only when women make the “right” choice. Incidentally, the women in her sect (the Ismailis), as she has written in the past, stopped wearing headscarves when their imam told them to stop, so she has no business lecturing other Muslims just because our religious leaders tell our women something different.

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