Unmasking Islamic domestic violence

31st August 2004, Comments 0 comments

The central message claimed in the 10-minute film "Submission, part 1", is that the Koran preaches Muslim women should submit to Allah in all things — and that their men should beat them when they are judged to have stepped out of line. Cor

MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali has
shown herself to be
an excellent pamphleteer

A woman in dark robes places a prayer mat on the floor and she begins to pray to Allah. She is surrendering to her God and Allah's wishes as expressed in the holy Koran.

When the camera moves closer, we see all is not as it first appears: her garments are transparent and her breasts are clearly visible. The Koran forbids all Muslims — men and women — to show themselves naked in public.

And though it is probably not strictly banned, we can only imagine the quotes from the Koran written in calligraphy on her body must also breach the spirit of Islamic religious law. The depicted texts from the Koran deal with the perscribed punishments for women who "misbehave".

As the film continues, we hear four tragic stories of women being forced into arranged marriages, being whipped, beaten and raped. We see images of backs marked by a whip and a woman's face reduced to a bloody pulp by her man's fists.

All the time these women, we are told, are meant to surrender themselves to Allah and accept their fate.

The film has provoked a lot of controversy since it was shown on Sunday when its writer, Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was interviewed on the "Zomergasten", or Summer Guests, programme.

But the film Submission has little new to say that Hirsi Ali has not said before.

Since her election to the Dutch Parliament one and a half years ago, she has doggedly criticised the treatment of women under Islam, both in immigrant communities in the Netherlands and overseas.

She has made headlines for describing Islam as backward and its prophet Mohammed as a pervert because he married a 12-year-old girl.

Remarks like that have drawn the wrath of fundamentalists: her life has been threatened more than once and she is accompanied everywhere by armed security officers.

Her criticism of Islam has been very heavy-handed and even some liberal thinkers have tended to dismiss her as an embittered crank. (She fled, aged 22, to the Netherlands when her father tried to force her into an arranged marriage in Kenya in 1991.)

But with Submission, part 1, Hirsi Ali is continuing her campaign, no matter how uncomfortable her message might be to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Her message remains as uncompromising as ever and the semi-nudity provides the necessary dose of shock value that always seem to accompany her public statements. 

But this time round she has teamed up with Theo van Gogh, one of the most brilliant, if controversial, directors in the Netherlands to make her case through art.

One reviewer has described the movie as a monologue, but it is more in the tradition of the political pamphlets of the 17th and 18th centuries. The arguments are drawn with broad strokes and there is no room for equivocation or even-handedness. If the form veers towards the sensational or caricature, all the better to get attention and stimulate debate.

Van Gogh is not one to censure out a naked body when the script demands it — and Hirsi Ali says it does. The woman's nakedness strips away the cloak of the veil and reveals Muslim woman are just like everyone else; flesh and blood humans, she claims.

The Koran tells women to cover themselves up and submit to Allah in all things

At first glance, Hirsi Ali and director Van Gogh are a bit of an odd couple. She is slim and immaculately turned out, he is rotund, dresses "casually" with braces, and chain-smokes.

What they have in common is a drive to state their point of view forcibly, sometimes to the point of enraging their audiences and alienating people. And neither seems to care.

Hirsi Ali was a member of the Labour PvdA party, but she left spectacularly in 2002. Having had to flee to the US following death threats in the Netherlands, she claimed the social democrats in the PvdA were only paying lip-service to women's rights, particularly when it comes to rights for women in immigrant and Muslim communities.

She joined the right-wing Liberal V

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