Leila for blog

July 14, 2014

“Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.”

                              – Cersei  “Game of Thrones”

 Sadly, this is as true in the Muslim World as anywhere else. As a matter of fact, the inflicting of pain on a Muslim girl seems to occur at will and whim. Although it is injustice when any girl is hurt, in a culture that stands on the platform of Islam for any and everything, it is particularly appalling.  In the community of the Prophet’s time, women were respected leaders. Where is that standard today? Inevitable media embellishment aside, horrible crimes against Muslim women occur every day. What would the Prophet say? A man who supported women’s rights even before there was a word called feminism. If we are to model our lives after the perfect Muslim as we are encouraged to do, why do we forget his balanced treatment of the women in his world?

Injustice occurs everywhere across space and time, across gender. Recently, I have read reports that have given me more pause than usual. In Iran, young girls decided to do a lip-dub to “Happy.” They wanted to show the world that people are happy in Iran. However, the message was lost because they were dancing on rooftops. Certain segments of the population found this to be vulgar. The girls were arrested, forced to take their clothes off in front of female officers, and humiliated publicly. First of all, I saw no vulgarity in the video. The girls were dancing by themselves and fully covered. They didn’t have their hair covered, but I hardly call that distasteful.  Clearly, some do. What exactly did they do wrong when they were trying to show that people in Iran are happy? I realize that I am looking at it from my Western lens.  But even if you look at it from the other side where is the compassion? Fear and intimidation are not the way to teach lessons and share your perspective. I also understand that this does not happen everywhere in Iran, but the fact that it happens is a problem. Additionally, it is yet another mark on the Muslim World. Yet something else that makes us look like savages to the rest of the world.

The other report that caught my attention was about Iranian actress, Leila Hatami who served on the jury at Cannes. She should have received commendation for representing the artistic side of Iran to the world. However, she was beyond criticized for allowing the 80-year old festival president to kiss her on the cheek, as is European custom. She extended her hand for just a handshake, but he still kissed her. How was she supposed to respond? Was she to create a scene and disrespect her host? Or should she have handled it with grace and decorum? She chose to handle the situation with tact, and there was still controversy, like she instigated it, which is par for the course for any woman in any part of the world.

The backlash was unnecessarily harsh. Different factions within the country have called for her punishment. A women’s group, Student Sisters of Hezbollah called for her public flogging.  According to them, her “sinful act of kissing a strange man in public” should have been punished. Again, she did not kiss him. He kissed her when she wasn’t expecting it. Furthermore, why are other women calling for the abuse of another woman? I am sure there are underlying causes that because I am not a part of the culture I do not understand. However culture aside, there is no justification for physical abuse.

Hatami then had to issue a public apology and explain herself. Even the Minister for Culture and Guidance said that she seemed to be “caught off guard,” which she clearly was. She was at an international event representing her country in the best manner possible. She found herself in an awkward situation and handled it as best she could. She should have been commended for handling herself in a graceful manner. Instead, she was vilified and forced to explain herself for something that at the end of the day is between her and her husband. Ironically, I don’t hear any complaints from him.

At the end of the day, I respect the sentiments and perspectives of all, even if they differ from my own. However, I do believe that all situations where possible should be handled with kindness and compassion. I am sure that elsewhere in Iran, situations are handled with both these ideals and that media attention tends to focus on those situations when they are not present. Both these situations were handled irrationally and harshly… in the name of Islam.  That’s my problem.

During the Prophet’s time, any punishments were distributed equally amongst men and women. And in cases of fornication and adultery. Neither of which occurred in Leila Hatami’s case.  Neither of which occurred in the case of the girls dancing in the video. The morality police need to reexamine their definition.

In any case, it is a dangerous proposition for morality to be dictated. If someone is asking for guidance, that’s another matter. If you are going to use a religion like Islam to impose morality, look at the Prophet’s example. So many times, he showed compassion and mercy towards people who intentionally tried to injure him, even kill him. He showed tenderness and kindness to the women in his inner circle and encouraged the men in his community to do the same. So when our model Muslim took these actions, how can anyone who identifies as Muslim justify doing any less? Sadly, we justify the opposite of his example and become a part of a world that hurts little girls.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…