If there is a single person on the cyber-planet not yet bored to the back teeth with the Femen and Anti-Femen protests, I have a few small wee things to say.
1) There are serious problems facing women in many Muslim countries.
2) There are serious problems facing women in many countries, full stop.
3) There is no legal basis for stoning adulterers in Islam, for banning women from driving, for accusing pregnant single women of fornication (see why here), for a man beating his wife (you read right – read Laleh Bakhtiar’s excellent explanation why), and for a whole host of evils inflicted on women in the name of patriarchy in Islam’s clothing.
4) There is no death penalty by lapidation in Tunisia, and there were no executions at all in the last two years. Tunisia is a very Western-leaning nation among the Arab nations; the President once prepared on state television eating during Ramadan, and encouraging people not to fast. The threats against Amina (the Tunisian Femen protester who published a topless photo of herself online) are empty.
5) Boobies are wonderfully handy things. They make milk for babies. Breastfeeding is seen as a perfectly normal, necessary, nurturing act in Muslim countries, and is accepted everywhere. Men just look away.
6) Breastfeeding in most Western countries is considered as one of those things hippie women with hairy armpits do in public places, and may result in you being asked to leave a restaurant. (This may not purely be for prejudicial reasons. I know someone whose baby popped off the nipple one time and she accidentally squirted a waiter in the eye.)
7) Seeing punky white girls with the words ‘F*** YOUR MORALS’ and ‘RELIGION KILLS’ scrawled across their tits does not exactly make most Muslim women warm to their cause, even if it is, in theory, in their favour. (Incidentally, the biggest mass murderers of the 20th century, Hitler and Stalin, were atheists. Communism trampled on the human rights of millions of people in the Soviet Bloc, China and elsewhere, and it was aggressively anti-religion. There are, shocking as it sounds, many politically-motivated killings that occur all over the world for such charming causes as landgrabs, resource appropriation, torturing purported terrorists and so on. The ‘Enlightened’ West doesn’t exactly have the cleanest bill itself.)
8) In the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s). many women went around bare-breasted. This did not – amazingly! – result in mass orgies in the streets in which lust-fuelled Arab men tore their thowbs off and ravished them. The men just had to learn to lower their gaze. If Muslim men applied this deeply-cherished Islamic principle properly, they wouldn’t even SEE a woman’s naked breasts, thus obviating any idea of her being immoral, whoreish, publicity seeking…or whatever.
9) It is true that there are harsh (hudud) punishments in Islamic law. However, if you read the small print, which is actually very large print but only appears to be small to myopic Saudi patriarchs and hysterical journalists, the chances of being able to apply these hudud punishments are effectively impossible. In order for a man to catch his wife cheating, for example, he would not only have to catch her in bed with another man. He would have to witness the act of copulation with his bare eyes, and he would need to have three male witnesses to the exact same act, all of whom must have such spotless records of morality and character themselves that if they have ever been seen to hit a donkey, their testimony in court must be thrown out. Even a women who becomes pregnant after not seeing her husband for two years is protected by the (clearly unscientific) concept of the ‘Sleeping Foetus’. The Qur’an furthermore states that “…No-one shall bear any prejudice against a woman because of her child” (2:233). In fact, to make an unsuccessful accusation of adultery carries a penalty only slightly less than that for adultery itself (eighty lashes). (Yes I know, lashes, bad. But still an improvement on stoning. I’m guessing the hope was that 1400 years later things would have continued to improve…boy did they guess wrong!) Technically, if the restrictions on hudud laws were put into practice, any kind of corporal or capital punishment in a Muslim country would have to be effected after a confession – and even then it would be rare. The Prophet was known to have asked the family and friends of a man confessing to adultery if he was mad, or drunk, and then he repeatedly asked him if he was sure he didn’t just touch her. (The tradition of stoning for adultery was banned by Shariah law in the lifetime of Muhammad, to his very great relief.)
10) The Prophetic example is one that cannot be condensed to a soundbite. While in his time there were certainly very ancient methods of dealing with social disorder which in our times nobody would stand for, the overall example he gave was one of compassion, forgiveness, humility, kindness, generosity, good humour, embodying beauty, and modesty (in its widest sense; he famously said “Modesty is a garment”, which to me says that the attitude itself is a protection, regardless of what is worn). If he were around today, viewing the other options we have on hand to deal with crime and disorder, I have absolutely no doubt that he would ban hudud punishments. Some Muslim countries are coming to this realisation, very slowly. We are obligated to campaign for its progress. These are vitally important causes, and yet poor research and knee-jerk reactions mean we’re getting mired in debates that only distract us from the real issues. Channel that anger right andwe might see some real victories.
So, if you have not already fallen asleep at the mere mention of the F word, those are my two bits. With the sexualisation of commerce and the commercialisation of sex in the Western world, frankly, I am bored to the point of numbness by the sight of a strange woman’s breasts. It seems like more of the same, be it Beyoncé’s bouncing bazongas or Femen’s anarchistic antics. Boobs are, to me, one of the greatest wonders of the world, but it’s not because of how other people see them, particularly not people all set to Instagram them. It might come as a shock to us, Internet-inured as we are, but really, the most beautiful things in life are not out there on the street, or on your iPhone, easily available and free to download. They are more subtle, and hidden, and precious than anything your media-invaded imagination can come up with.
There is a whole other dimension to this, which is how it actually feels to wear a hijab, which Femen don’t seem to be very interested in. But that will have to be a post for another day.