In this Washington Post op-ed piece, Asra Nomani contributes to the "Islam is violent" chorus by contending that the key to understanding "Muslim violence" is the verse in the Qur'an in which men are allowed to beat their disobedient wives. She claims that
"As long as the beating of women is acceptable in Islam, the problem of suicide bombers, jihadists and others who espouse violence will not go away; to me, they form part of a continuum."
I beg to differ. But before I expalin why, let me point out to one point of agreement I have with her:
she is absolutely right to blame the most literal and obscurantist interpretations of this verse and others on Saudi wahhabis and their oil money. The books she quotes and many of the Imams who bug her are trained in this benighted school of Islamic interpretation, whose aim is to come up with the most regressive interpretation of Islamic texts and tradition, print it in glossy pamphlets, then distribute it all over the world through a well-financed network of mosques and madrasas.
But I'm bothered by the timing of this essay and the audience she addresses. Who is she really writing for? Her fellow Muslims? I didn't get that impression from her tone. She sounds like another Muslim informer telling certain readership something they already know: Muslims beat up their wives and that has a sanction in the Qur'an. Not only that, the violence of the Ben Ladens of the world is to be understood as really integral to Islam. The impression her already terrified reader gets is that Ben Laden and Joe Muslim who (must) beat(s) his wife are really one and the same; it's a continum, you see. This is hardly original; we have been hearing this for years now, but it always sounds better when the brown woman herself is speaking. In sum, by presenting her essay as an attempt to shed light on "Muslim" violence, she undermines the credibility of any argument she's making.
I can end my post here. But I will go on just for the heck of it.
Afterall, if the key to understanding Muslim wife beating is this particular verse, how is one to understand the wife beating done by non-Muslims? Maybe those Christian, Jewish, atheist wife beaters have been secretly listening to some of these Muslim tapes? Maybe they are all secret converts to Islam? Or maybe there are a variety of reasons why these non-Muslim men beat up their wives. I'm sure there are studies about that. Only Muslim men beat up their wives because of one reason alone: a Qur'anic verse.
According to this article about the problem of wife beating among Jewish males in Israel, "'One out of six' or 'one out of seven' Israeli women is regularly beaten at home. The estimated minimum figure is 100,000 battered women in Israel (of whom 40,000 end up hospitalized)." The author goes on to blame certain patriarchal aspects of the Jewish tradition. What interests me about this article is how uninteresting it is to the readers of the Washington Post or to a large chunck of western feminists who are kept sleepless by their rescue fantasies of the "oppressed Muslim woman."
In two places in her essay Nomani explicitly contrasts "Muslim" women to "American" women. This is problematic first because the Muslim women she's speaking about ARE Americans. Second, because it implies that "American" women (who are these exactly: Texas women? African-American women, West Virginian women, upper east side women, women working at hooters? who exactly? Inquiring minds want to know) do not suffer from domestic abuse, which is false.
I also don't like how she belittles and dismisses the work other Muslims (groups and individuals) are doing to counter wife beating among their community. It's that "I'm a lone voice in the wilderness" syndrom. She calls them ineffective. Perhaps. But she does not offer a better alternative. Unless she's saying: Let's all be Texans!
And, yes, I am against wife beating!