The new law, in effect, turns wives into their husbands' indentured servants, and conjugal rape an act (an obscenity) protected by law.
Stoning the Protesters
On April 15, 2009, women took to the streets of Kabul, the Afghan capital, to protest the new law. They were stoned and insulted.
“Get out of here, you whores!” men shouted at the protesting women. “Get out!” (The men aren't entirely familiar with the law, which also forbids women to "get out" without a man's permission.)
That's the state of things in Afghanistan today: when human rights make a peep, brutality drowns it out. Literally. As anywhere from 50 to 300 women attempted to demonstrate against the law in Kabul today, counter-demonstrators, men <i>and</i> women, heckled them with shouts to drown out whatever the demonstrators were saying. The peppered them with rocks. That's what NATO and the United States are defending in Afghanistan: a place where dignity itself is under assault, in the streets of the capital and in law--because we shouldn't forget where all this started: in a legislative act that legalizes rape in the name of some religious tenet, and that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president the United States spent billions to install, defend and protect, signed.
Equal Rights in Words Only
The Afghan constitution purportedly provides for equal rights for women and men. But the law, written for the 10% Shiite, or Hazara minority in the country, allows Shiites to impose their own separate family law.
Karzai claims the law has been misinterpreted. Really? Here's the wording of its most objectionable portion, word for word, as translated by the London Times:
- A woman would not be allowed to decline having sexual intercourse with her husband unless she had a valid "excuse," or was sick. Specifically, Article 132 reads: "As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night. Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”
- Article 133, restricting women's movement outside the house. That was a Taliban favorite: “A wife cannot leave the house without the permission of the husband” unless in a medical or other emergency. (The actual Taliban decree, when it was in effect in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, read as follows: "Women you should not step outside your residence. If you go outside the house you should not be like women who used to go with fashionable clothes wearing much cosmetics and appearing in front of every men before the coming of Islam." Again: don't fall for the common anachronism of comparing this new rape law with a "return" to Taliban rule. This law is designed to appease the Hazara Shiite minority. The Taliban are Sunni Pashtun. There are similarities in regressive methods and disdain for women, but those similarities, cutting across sectarian differences, only prove the theological hollowness at the heart of the law.)
- Article 27 endorsing child marriage.
- Other sections of the law allows withholding a woman's right to inherit her husband's wealth. And the custody of children, in case of divorce or death, is decided exclusively by fathers and grandfathers.
An unnamed western diplomat had the temerity to say to The Guardian that the law is going to be tricky to change because it gets us into territory of being accused of not respecting Afghan culture, which is always difficult."
Really? Would he say the same thing about a law protecting genital mutilation? Wife-beating? Infanticide? This Afghan law isn't much different. It isn't about local customs. It's about local barbarism. And if that unnamed diplomat wants to have it his way, fine. Let's not interfere, even with local barbarism. But as long as my tax dollars and yours are getting wasted defending this sort of thing, it is no longer a matter of "interference." It's a matter of accountability:" what are you doing with my money, and do I really want it spent defending practices the Stone Age population of 12,000-BC Lascaux would be ashamed of?
An Offense to Islamic Law
I'm no cleric, I'm no lawyer, I'm no theologian or Islamic scholar. Not by any means. For all that, I can tell you with absolute authority that aside from the child-marriage provision (unfortunately), that law is bunk. It's a sham. It's a perversion of what passes for religious orthodoxy in some parts of the world. It's based on nothing, but absolutely <i>nothing</i>, that either the Koran, the Hadiths, the Sunnah or any other originalist derivatives of the Prophet Muhammad's words.
The child-marriage provision is bunk, too, even if sanctioned by Muhammad, who married Aisha when she was nine years old (but did not, according to tradition, consume the marriage until she was older).
You disagree? Challenge me. Go right ahead. I dare you. Use the Readers' Response section below to your heart's content. But cite me authorities, as such things go. Cite me chapter and verse. Cite me what legal thinking you can muster.
And cite me your heart, if you can.