Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Clive James & Brown Women

Gayatri Spivak could have had Clive James in mind when coining her classic line about the urge of the white man to save brown women from brown men. James' urge, already the subject of one post on this blog (Giving Poetry a Bad Name, 17/3/09), has resurfaced. Not that I'd have noticed without reading The Australian, of course. They just love the bugger over there at News Ltd.

In the paper's column, Global Briefing: Journals, under the heading No honour in killing (8/9/09), the reader is informed that James had asked, in an essay in the British monthly Standpoint, "how Western feminists can turn a blind eye to the honour killing of women." He is quoted as saying: "We are told that when it comes to a case of honour [killing], Jordan is one of the more progressive Islamic communities. In Jordan, only one-quarter of all homicides are cases of honour. In the Palestinian sectors of the West Bank and in Gaza, the proportion is two-thirds."

We are told... By whom? James doesn't say. Unlike MERC, he doesn't do footnotes. Ready? A quick google for 'honour killings/Jordan' elicits the following: "The Jordan Times estimated in 1994 that between 28 and 60 Jordanian women... die in 'honour' killings every year... The death-toll may even run into the hundreds..." ('Honour' killings, (2) Jordan, gendercide.org). Do the same for Palestine, and you get this: "Given that honor killings often remain a private family affair, no official statistics are available on the practice or its frequency. According to a November 1997 report of the Women's Empowerment Project... there were 20 honor killings in Gaza and the West Bank in 1996." (Commodifying Honor in Female Sexuality: Honor killings in Palestine, Suzanne Ruggi, MERIP, Spring 1998)

The editor of the Australian column concludes thus: "Drawing on an article by the late Australian journalist Pamela Bone, Clive's conclusion is that feminists have been hiding - 'eloquent in their condemnation of Western evils', but ignoring the treatment of women within the culture of Islam."

Hello? Drawing on an article by the late Australian journalist Pamela Bone? Now there's an authority for you! As an apologist for Israel (and associate editor of The Age), Pamela Bone could apologise with the best of them: "Yes, what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians is terrible. But what the Palestinians are doing to the Israelis is also terrible. One can hate the destruction of Palestinian homes (I do) but could at least recognise the reason for the destruction is arms-smuggling tunnels underneath them." (Anti-Semitism: the old hatred returns, The Age, 31/7/04)

And that phrase the treatment of women within the culture of Islam - how sly is that? What precisely does within the culture of Islam mean? That the practice of honour killing is... Islamic? To return to Ruggi's article quoted above: "The honour killing emerged in the pre-Islamic era, according to Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University... 'In an Islamic context, punishment for relationships out of wedlock is stipulated as 100 lashes if the woman is single, or if married, death by stoning. In both cases, however, there must be 4 witnesses willing to testify that the sexual act took place; conditions which make punishment difficult'." OK, so it's not Islamic, but anyone reading No honour in killing in The Australian won't be exposed to this clarification. And that's the whole point over at News Ltd, isn't it? Keep them in the dark and feed them on Islamophobic bullshit.

Should Clive have hung his Islamophobic rant on the death by stoning hook instead? Well, if he had, he'd have opened Pandora's box. According to the Bible, a woman can be stoned for adultery or for not being a virgin on her wedding night, for example. Stoning is also the penalty for apostasy, witchcraft, disobeying one's parents, breaking the Sabbath and cursing the king. And if an ox were to gore a man or woman? You guessed it - death by stoning. (skepticsannotatedbible.com)

In an attempt to ward off any scrutiny of the culture of Judaism, James issues the following disclaimer in his Standpoint essay, A Veil of Silence over Murder: "And the fact that there are men in charge of synagogues who feel the same [ie banning menstruating women] is not really an answer, because except for the occasional ultra-Orthodox headcase no man who runs a synagogue wants to burn [Pakistani-style] the women inside it." And that's that? Not by a long chalk. You see, James is as ignorant of Judaism as he is of Islam.

Israel Shahak, the late author of Jewish History, Jewish Religion (1994), tells us that "[s]exual intercourse between a married Jewish woman and any man other than her husband is a capital offence for both parties, and one of the 3 most heinous sins." But, he points out (and no doubt James will be relieved to hear this), "the concept of adultery... does not apply to intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman; rather, the Talmud equates such intercourse to the sin of bestiality... This does not imply that sexual intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman is permitted - quite the contrary. But the main punishment is inflicted on the Gentile woman; she must be executed, even if she was raped by the Jew: 'If a Jew has coitus with a Gentile woman, whether she be a child of 3 or an adult, whether married or unmarried... she must be killed, as is the case with a beast, because through her a Jew got into trouble'." (p 87)

And James reckons feminists turn a blind eye...


Anonymous said...

Those concerned about the death of 20 women in Gaza AND the West Bank in 1996, may also be interested to read a recently published B'Tselem report on Operation Cast Lead (http://www.btselem.org/Download/20090909_Cast_Lead_Fatalities_Eng.pdf).

In the process of casting all that lead, the IDF killed 107 non-combatant adult women and 320 minors (unspecified number female) in a mere 22 days in Gaza (ignoring 336 non-combatant males).

Please note that this is not an attempt to minimise the importance of dealing with honor killings. My purpose is only to point out that women's lives more endangered by the IDF, so I hope to see Clive take them on too.

Anonymous said...

The point isn't what the texts say but what is happening now. Honour killings might be part of pre-Islamic and Islamic and Jewish and Christian 'culture/history' but let's be honest - where is it happening now????

Who is the 'apologist' here - it seems you are. Why? To defend the indefensible. Am I wrong?