The argument in the discussion on rape has been deformed

Dear Editor,
Interesting letters join the discussion on sexual violation and Islam. From Vishnu Bisram and Ryhaan Shah, each shows its particular light and its particular concerns and each reminds us that care ought to be taken (by this writer for one) in the expression of opinion on these sensitive matters.

Mr Bisram gives us the benefit of his travels and observation of life and crime in the Emirates and similar parts. Ms Shah (‘Rape is the most under-reported crime in the world’ SN, Jan 11) cautions us against statistics from traditional Islamic countries, as under-reporting may distort results.

On this score I need to say that in the absence of evidence to the contrary we have no grounds for rejecting rape figures from any country. They are evaluated and usually published by reputable organisations such as the WHO, often with comments on the collection process, as Ms Shah has noted.  Mr Bisram who is also a social scientist with training in statistics would know that a margin of error would not have been arbitrarily assigned the collected data and that final estimates are often scientifically arrived at.

For example, there is much auto-congratulation in Europe now over a recent rape case in India in which six men assaulted and killed a young lady in a bus. The statistics we are treated to say reports of rape have increased by 700% over the past decade. That 24 000 rape complaints are on file in India for 2011 but that police refuse to record complaints by lower caste women. Also, about 25% of prosecutions for rape result in conviction. The social, even socio-economic-ethnic (poor/ lower caste) factor distorts public/police perception of the incidence of rape and their reaction to it.

Perhaps the problem is deeply embedded in India.

However, a point needs to be made. Prof Tariq Ramadan, once named by Time as one of the 100 most influential men in the world) has called for a moratorium on hadd punishments for adultery, and we suppose, for rape. Hadd punishments are such as beheading and flogging. He agrees with Bisram that the beheaded and flogged are almost always the poor and the powerless. The Sheikh or politically connected rich, are unlikely to get it in the public square.
Mr Bisram points to cases that need greater study, rape featuring as victim foreign female domestics, a category in the Persian Gulf states of servant/subordinates with a similar social profile to the Hindu lower castes. Again, we may, as he counsels, reasonably assume that there is under-reporting.

This week a letter by Nicole Cole, commissioner on the Women, Gender Rights and Child Commission, speaks with disapproval and despair of the low rates of conviction in Guyana. Everywhere there is dissatisfaction with conviction rates, seeming to suggest that the solution is not catching and punishment, but as some of us are insisting, a change of the enabling conditions that facilitate rape.

So. We conclude that some readers of the discussion, on this matter that was launched by letters from the Swami and Moeen ul Hack, are especially moved by the plight of the victim and have come to believe that our comments on modest dress shift the weight of culpability from the criminal males to the victims.

I have to plead grief and mental suffering at this point. I am particularly wounded by the conclusion that some of my countrymen would ascribe to their fellow Guyanese (ul Hack, Bakr, Ally) the sort of base ignorance that is born of machismo or caste/class prejudice, which leads to a reflex support of the male and condemnation of the female. It is regrettable if my own formulation of views has been so lax as to permit such an interpretation. I do not believe that rape is less complex in its criminology than other personal crimes and crimes of sexuality. And I do not think the kinds of rape possible in the range of countries mentioned in this text are all due to females flaunting it with provocative dress. We have to concede that Swami Aksharananda, in writing  his first letter rejecting the idea, was quite correct in insisting that lawless clothes are not the cause of rape. We merely noted that it is a factor that speaks of attitudes to female sexuality in a given culture and place, and never a positive development.

To repeat, the argument has been deformed by the false perception that we are discussing the fallacy contained in the statement “dressing bad attracts rapists and leads to rape.” It is quite possible that men in countries where scanty wear is common (beaches at Ipanema for example) become so desensitised to the flashes of raw flesh that if any thing at all, exposure lowers male libido. Work on “the shifting erogenous zone“ would seem to suggest so.

A word of comfort to Ms Shah. Contrary to what she has heard, women reporting rape in Muslim countries are not systematically seized, tried and punished. But if you were raped during a secret encounter with an internet admirer, for example, you would, in many places, have contributed to committing a crime. In most of the Muslim world unmarried couples cannot rent a hotel room, etc. The subject needs to be rescued from the clichés with which it is now riddled. Muslims are anything but irrational and there are no crazy laws out there.

Ms Shah licks out at polygamy, which is the main reason I am writing this response. I felt, instinctively, this need to respond. She states erroneously (as do two or three apologetic latter day Muslim scholars), that polygamy was a temporary measure in reaction to lower numbers of men in proportion to women at a certain moment (due to war). Not so. In fact the Bible has a lot of polygamous prophets and other believers and Allah has nowhere condemned anyone for loving two, three, four….

Islam came at a time when polygamy was already practised and was not responsible for its institution, nor is it recorded anywhere that it introduced a limiting clause beyond fixing a maximum number and extending conditions from the monogamous to cover cases of the polygamous. Not all women will agree. But, as I have noted elsewhere, the difference between the believing women and the others is contained in attitudes to polygamy, modest dress, birth control – among other principles.

Evidently Muslims do not take kindly to such women, our wives, mothers and daughters, being raped; not on the grounds that the rapist is a man like us. Or of the same tribe. Or of higher caste. Or rich. Or is holding our passport. So Mr Bisram is right in regarding as worrisome or worse crimes of this sort that occur in the rich Arab countries. Strangely Ms Shah seems to fear that we are advocating that rapists get off on the simple grounds that “she clothes mek me lost control.” That what was intended to be a reasonable proposition becomes stripped down to this simplification is regrettable. One fears being remembered in the archives as the men who called for freeing rapists. Or some such absurdity.
Yours faithfully,
Abu Bakr

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