- - - (cosm_liykew) wrote,
- - -

Rape and Race - let's remember to keep these separate

There are two important issues that jump out at me when the controversial sermon of Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly is discussed. The first is affirming women's sexual rights – that is, striving towards maximising the ability of women to exercise their autonomy in the domain of sex and to ensure women live free from sexual violence. The second, less discussed issue, is how we are going to overcome religious and cultural intolerance in our so-called multicultural Australian society.

For the sake of argument, I am going to assume that the translation of the sheik's sermon was fairly accurate: that the underlying attitude expressed was that if a woman exhibits certain behaviours (such as the wearing of revealing clothing), then she has, at least in part, relinquished her right to be able to choose who she has sex with. Frankly, this line of thought simply disgusts me. Sexual acts are uniquely intimate, private and invasive in nature and thus the imposition of sexual acts on a person against their will violates not only the individual's bodily integrity but also human dignity.

Having said that, it seems to me that if the public were genuinely concerned with the issue of protecting sexual autonomy of women, then yes we should criticise the sheik, but just as importantly we must also be aggressively attacking very pervasive cultural attitudes. Let's make it clear right now that the line of thought I described above cannot in any way be regarded as a Muslim one – I hear it echoed alarmingly often in non-Muslim Australians as well. When discussing a rape, it is fairly common for Australian males (and females) to say, "well, she was asking for it wearing those clothes" or "she deserved it, acting like such a slut" or "she was asking for it, getting that pissed". Perhaps there was no cat and meat analogy, but don't be fooled by the packaging – that's the exact same attitude excusing rape right there.

I can already hear people making retorts that the sheik is a respected religious leader who lectures publicly, which makes his statements much more significant than when a few mates in the local pub shoot the breeze. My response would be that we should not underestimate the effect of cultural attitudes. Less public manifestations make less obvious targets, but they do infiltrate their way into the psyche of a society. Take, for example, the way rape (or "sexual assault") is trialled in the Australian justice system. Although officially the defence is not allowed to introduce evidence into trials regarding information such as the clothing or sexual behaviour of the alleged rape victim, more often than not such information does end up being introduced, because it supposedly gives the jury a better idea of the credibility of the alleged victim's testimony. Although there is some logic behind such a rationale, undoubtedly this information appeals to the "she was asking for it" attitude more often than not. It is hardly surprising then that few of the reported cases of rape ever eventuate in a trial and very few trials eventuate in a conviction.

The second thing that really frustrates me about the discussion on this incident is how women's rights has been used as ammunition to claim religious or cultural superiority. Anglo Australians want to vilify Muslims are rape inciters and female oppressors and Muslim Australians want to vilify Western societies as female objectificators. I feel like I am going crazy. Why isn't everyone else tired of this religious and cultural hatred and also very scared of it having lived in the times of the Cronulla riots and the Bali bombings? Where is the constructive dialogue? If we are continually going to concentrate on the flaws of other religions or cultures, this conflict of cultures will never resolve itself – all we will have to look forward to is more ethnic gang crime, race riots and terrorist attacks.

Instead, we should all be working towards acknowledging the faults as well as affirming the strengths of the different religions and cultures that exist in Australia. Let's not waste any more time attacking Muslims or Western society and focus on how we can understand and empathise with each other more. That's the only way out of this.
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