In a radio address today, President Bush said:
[T]he trend is clear: In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march…
The women at Nasar's beauty salon were Christian and Muslim, Sunni and Shiite, but they spoke with one voice on an issue that worries them all.
"I'm sure they will form an Islamic government and our freedom will be gone," Suzan Sarkon, 30, said as she settled in to get her long black hair trimmed. "We've never lived freely in Iraq, and now I think we never will."
Such a comment makes my blood boil. That the administration seeks to declare a victory of democracy in a country whose women are fearful that will never live freely is indicative of a sexism that knows no shame. Freedom means everyone. It is notable that in the same address, the president also stated, “Freedom is the birthright and deep desire of every human soul.” Every human soul. That means women, too, dammit.
As Iraq embarks on its uncertain journey toward crafting a new constitution, Iraqi women have perhaps more to win or lose in the process than anyone.
Since the election results were confirmed, many women have expressed deep concerns about the direction in which they see their country headed. A coalition of Islamist Shiite parties won the largest share of the seats in Iraq's new National Assembly. The parties have nominated an Islamic scholar to be prime minister, and though they insist they do not want to impose a religious government on Iraq, they have made it clear they expect Islam to feature in the new constitution.
At a minimum, that likely will mean applying Shariah [or Islamic law] to civil and family laws, according fewer rights to women than men in areas such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, said Joyce Wiley, an authority on Iraqi Shiites at the University of South Carolina. "I'm afraid it's not going to be very good for women," she said.
I am also curious as to how Christian and atheist Iraqis, of which there are a sizable number, can be considered “free” if they will be beholden to Shariah as well.
The marked increase in the number of women wearing head scarves these days is only the most outwardly visible sign of the creeping Islamization of society that has already taken place since the U.S. invasion, leaving many women living under a de facto form of Islamic rule, she said.
"There are armed men everywhere. If you go without the protection of the scarf, they can stop you and you may get assaulted," Mohammed said. "And there's pressure from husbands and fathers. Being good and chaste means you put a veil on. They tell you it's voluntary, but how can it be voluntary when there's that much pressure on you?"
The liberation promised by the U.S. invasion has so far eluded most Iraqi women. With gunmen roaming the streets and kidnappings a daily occurrence, protective fathers and anxious husbands keep their daughters and wives at home. Women have been targeted for failing to cover their heads and for expressing views such as those of Mohammed, who has received several death threats.
"If there is Islamic law, it will be worse," [Tara Husham, 22, whose Muslim father and Christian mother say she must be home by 5 p.m.] said. "Islamic law is very traditional--women must obey everything men say. It means democracy will be denied to us."
As she spoke, a figure cloaked in black entered the salon, striking a stark contrast with the other women dressed in jeans and tight sweaters.
Tearing off her head scarf and shaking loose her blond-streaked hair, Anwar Sobhi, 30, explained that she traveled from a neighborhood overrun by radical Sunni insurgents, where graffiti on the walls threatens death to women who don't cover their hair and where the beauty salons were forced to close months ago because they are deemed un-Islamic.
"Of course, I don't want to dress like this. ... I want to wear what I like," said Sobhi, who is Shiite. "When I was a child, my parents used to try to make me wear hijab to school, and when I got around the corner I would take it off. It was just like suffocation."
She only began covering up last month, after she was threatened by armed men.
"Where I live, not even one lady can go out without completely covering her hair," she said. "It's just too dangerous."
How is this freedom? This is abject oppression, right down to the very clothes against their skin. Is this the result for which we hoped when we set out to “liberate” Iraq—that its women would end up with fewer personal freedoms than before our arrival? The right to vote is a futile right indeed if one cannot even wear the clothes of one’s choosing when heading out to the voting booth.
"If George Bush thinks this is liberation, then he should make his own wife and daughters wear hijab," said Hanan Azzawi, 36, one of the salon's stylists.
No, if Bush thinks this is liberation, then he needs to get himself a fucking dictionary.
(Crossposted at Shakespeare’s Sister.)
-- Shakespeare’s Sister