|Daily Times - Site Edition||Tuesday, June 27, 2006|
COMMENT: Desegregation of the sexes and promiscuity — Ishtiaq Ahmed
If women can be helped out of poverty and to earn a decent income by working alongside men and have an independent source of income to assert their freedom and equality, the vast majority will not sell themselves into prostitution. Neither ruthless capitalism nor medieval moralism is any help for the true emancipation of women from the fetters of exploitation
Dr Saleem Ali’s essay ‘Sex and sensibility’ (Daily Times, June 17, 2006) is a rejoinder to my ‘Convoluted hypocrisy and extremism’ (Daily Times, May 30, 2006) although he does not mention me by name, preferring to talk about ‘liberal authors’ as if the plural form obviates a direct clash. I think this was unnecessary and might just confuse others who may start looking in vain for related articles. I always welcome debate and therefore this opportunity.
Let me state at the onset that he rightly points out that the $57 billion pornography industry is rooted in the West. But that is no news. Just as the Internet, telephone, video cameras, almost all new medicines to fight cancer, diabetes, strokes, most modern weapon systems and aircraft and so on are products of Western science and technology so is pornography.
However, my article was not about the supply side; it was about the demand side. I think the main point in Dr Ali’s article is that consumption of pornography is huge in the liberal West so how do I explain the connection between sexual segregation and browsing of sex-related websites?
There is a major fallacy in the argument that rather than thorough research I had based my article on an ‘obscure study’ by Google and relied on anecdotal evidence. Since pornographic films are not sold in the open anywhere in the Muslim world we are in no position to know how the market would behave if such material were sold freely. But we do know that out of 10 top scorers of nations whose citizens browse sex-related websites six happen to be Muslim countries. Since Google is one of the major search engines I have no reason to doubt the findings.
The more relevant question to pose is the following: given the huge demand for pornographic films and other material are sales of such products likely to be greater in sexually segregated societies or those in which men and women can meet freely? Dr Ali needs to develop his research strategy intelligently. It may lead him to some very interesting answers.
Fatima Mernissi has demonstrated in her studies of Arab societies in general and Morocco in particular that sodomy and bestiality are widespread, especially in the rural communities because of the segregation of men and women. My younger brother, who worked for years in the Pakistan Agricultural Supplies and Services Corporation (PASSCO), told me that in southern Punjab, much of NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan sodomy and bestiality are common among rural youths. In fact, he caught two boys trying to rape a goat in the vicinity of the mazar of Hazrat Sultan Bahu. The punishment meted out to them was 10 blows with a chhittar (shoe) each on their butts. They protested however that in many rural areas having sex with an animal was considered a rite of passage on the way to becoming full members of the male society!
Thus if pornographic films and websites are not accessible and men and women are socially segregated it does not mean that the sexual urge does not exist. It does and takes cruel and unnatural forms. Before the international gay community fire a broadside at me for being homophobic let me say that I am not talking about homosexuality as the choice of some individuals but sodomy as perverted sexual behaviour men resort to in sexually segregated situations.
I wrote the article not with a view to preach sexual promiscuity but to advocate a relaxed and humane relationship between boys and girls in a desegregated society. It is by meeting each other and learning to know each other as human beings that they are more likely to behave responsibly than if they are kept away from each other as if in separate prisons.
It is most unfortunate that an educated person such as Dr Ali believes that if one speaks out against sexual segregation one is justifying sexual promiscuity. But I do understand where such thinking comes from. I believe there are some books of fiqh in which it is written that a brother and sister should not be left alone in a room. I wish Dr Ali had educated himself out of such a mentality.
The second point he has taken up is that of sex tourism and sexpatriates that infest Thailand and other poor Third World countries. Here Dr Ali has focused on the symptom and not the disease. There is a huge market for prostitution in Europe now because of hundreds of thousands of poor women from Eastern Europe being brought to the affluent West. The same is true of Thailand and other such countries.
Muslim conquerors routinely distributed among themselves the women captured in battle. Maulana Maududi has fixed the right to one woman per soldier (Al-Jihad Fi Al Islam, 1981, p. 254). The question to pose therefore is: what do men do when they have the power to sexually exploit women? Dr Ali makes a strong plea for monogamy, but there is no basis for it in dogmatic Islamic law. All the four Sunni madhabs as well as the Shia fiqh allow four wives plus concubines acquired in battle. Dr Ali needs to read his own father, Professor Shaukat Ali’s book, Islam and the Challenge of Modernity, to know how fiercely the ulema opposed any restrictions on the right to four wives that all Muslim men are entitled to under dogmatic Sharia.
The Shia fiqh even allows mut’a or temporary marriage. Moreover, all the fiqhs allow minor girls to be married. Therefore Dr Ali’s plea about Eastern values as source of his ideal of a monogamous marriage is a misleading though pious-sounding cliché; it has no support in classical Islamic law.
If women can be helped out of poverty and to earn a decent income by working alongside men and have an independent source of income to assert their freedom and equality the vast majority will not sell themselves into prostitution. Neither ruthless capitalism nor medieval moralism is any help for the true emancipation of women from the fetters of exploitation. The solution therefore is a society of free and equal men and women.
The author is an associate professor of political science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se
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