Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I don't get it

One of the downsides of growing up in middle America is that you never learn much about foreign cultures, and this leads to a certain amount of cultural confusion when you're attempting to understand international news stories. I was reading an Associated Press story on the CBS News website about the firing of Ahmed Abdul-Ghafour al-Samaraie by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after al-Samaraie called for an international investigation into sexual assault allegations leveled by a Sunni Arab woman against the Shiite-dominated police. The following paragraph caught my eye:

Rape is considered especially heinous in conservative Muslim countries, and victims rarely come forward since they risk not only public scorn but possible "honor killing" at the hands of male relations seeking to restore the family's honor.

This passage, as writen makes little sense to me, and I must admit that I don't have the cultural background to make heads or tails of it. But at first glance, if a woman who has been raped is in danger of being murdered by her own family members, to cleanse the stain on their honor, it seems that BEING raped is considered pretty heinous itself. Here, if a posse of relations got together form a family lynch mob, we'd expect them to go after the rapist. The practice of honor killings recalls the United States of some fifty-plus years ago (and in some instances/places, much more recently than that), when men were effectively assumed to have zero control over their sexual impulses, and rape was routinely blamed on women, unless clear issues of status were involved. (Raping a woman of a higher status stripped a man of being able to claim that she was a wanton who incited him to assualt her. Of course, in many cases he also couldn't claim that the sex was consentual - even if it was.) While many Americans may not like to talk about such things in relation to our ancestors, we routinely consider men who claim that a woman as "being provacative" or "asking for it" as backwards - barely fit to be considered any sort of higher life form, let alone human, and "civilized" is right out. A woman who makes such a claim is considered to be in dire need of therapy or deprogramming.

I'm sure that I'm not the only Westerner who finds this infathomable. I don't know if a clearer understanding of Middle-eastern culture would let this make more sense to me or not, but I suspect that it would be worthwhile knowledge in any event.

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