Friday, September 30, 2005

It boggles my Western mind, but I’ve just come across another of the many Middle East public debates, this one on an Arab TV channel: When is a husband justified in beating his wife?

The debate, broadcast on the Lebanese channel, Heya TV, was between a Lebanese cleric, a Lebanese women’s rights activist and an Algerian woman author.

The cleric, Zakariya Ghandour, opened the debate with this graphic judgment: “Disciplining by beating occurs as a reprimand — not brutal beating. Brutal beating is forbidden. Use of a ruler or, as you mentioned, beating on the hand or the shoulder, the buttocks or anything like that — as a reprimand of a woman when all methods of guidance have failed. Like a mother or father who beat their son or daughter to prevent them from wrongdoing and not out of hatred or animosity.”

The interviewer asked the cleric if the wife can discipline the husband when he strays. “Can she too take a ruler, beat him and reprimand him, if he, for example strays. Is there equality in this?” Good question. Islamic answer:

“No, we give leadership to the man. She can also refrain from intimacy with him. Just like he can leave her bed, she can leave his. There is a parallel here.”

Algerian woman author Fadhila Al-Farouk interposes: “I live in a common [sic] neighborhood and hear the cries of women who were beaten almost every night. I know what it means for a woman to be beaten. I know what it means for a women to be beaten merely because a man stared at her. She is innocent but nevertheless she is beaten. … We are talking about brutal beatings, not a slap or two. … They use rods, they use belts, they use iron chains. We are talking abut violent beating.”

The interviewer says: “I am getting a very ugly picture of the Algerian people.”

The Algerian author replies: “No, this is not restricted to the Algerian people. It occurs throughout the Arab world.”

On another earlier debate, one participant suggested a more humane way to beat the supposedly errant spouse: with a toothpick. No statistics are available whether, in sparing the rod, the toothpick has come into widespread use.

The Algerian consul in Lebanon is quoted as authority for the revelation about “the suffering of Algerian women married to men in Egypt and other Arab countries and they beatings they suffered.” Nor is this mistreatment restricted to Arab countries, says Fadhila Al-Farouk. She claims some 2 million Arab wives in France “are victims of brutal beatings” too.

The interviewer asks if there is a difference between a woman suffering violence in the Arab world or in Western society. An incredible reply, as recorded by MEMRI, from the Algerian woman author. Fadhila Al-Farouk:

“The Western woman differs from the woman in Arab countries. The Western woman is aware of her basic rights. She knows who she should turn to, how to report to the police, neighbors get involved. In our case, a neighbor cannot call the police and the police cannot be involved. … It is very rare for the police to intervene between a husband a wife.”

Is it possible half the world’s Arab population has no rights?

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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