[Editor's note: In a recent Frontpage interview, Prof. Fred Gottheil told Jamie Glazov that he compiled a list of 675 email addresses from 900 signatures on a 2009 petition authored by Dr. David Lloyd, professor of English at the University of Southern California, that denounced Israel for "human rights violations." He asked these 675 academics to sign onto a statement expressing concern about human rights violations against women, gays and lesbians in the Muslim Middle East. Only 27 agreed to sign it – less than 5 percent of the total who had signed Lloyd's petition. Below we publish Prof. Gottheil's statement.]
A Statement of Concern
Calling for Support Regarding Discrimination in the Middle East against Women, Gays, and Lesbians.
This document is not a petition. It is, instead, a statement of concern addressing the problem of human rights abuses that appears to be pervasive in the Middle East. Having offered your name last January to the list of academics on American campuses who petitioned President Obama to reconsider our relationship with Israel, we ask that you now join us in expressing your concern about human rights abuses practiced against gays and lesbians and against women in many of the Middle Eastern countries, including the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority. There are other gender-based human rights violations in the region but by concentrating on these particularly egregious ones, we will be able to focus support for the victims of these abuses, and perhaps in this way help change the environment that fosters such long-practiced violations.
This statement of concern, along with its list of academic signatories, will be put in the public domain; to be made available to our colleagues, to members of Congress, to government people in the Middle East, and to the media. To repeat: It does not call upon any persons, organizations, or governments to take specific action.
The information offered below is meant only to highlight the ideas held and practices condoned by people in authoritative positions in the Middle East. Documentation is derived from sources as widespread as United Nations agencies, survey research units, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, academic journals, NGOs such as Asylum-Law and Human Rights Watch, and from media reporting offered on the Internet, such as BBC.
Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians
Allegations and evidence of discrimination against gays and lesbians is compelling. Asylum-Law, an organization aiding asylum-seeking persons worldwide reports that treatment of gay men in Arab countries is particularly distressing. Punishment for acts of homosexuality varies. In Saudi Arabia, capital punishment – beheading – applies. Syrians convicted of practicing homosexuality serve three years’ imprisonment. Most other sources describe the physical abuse of and long-terms prison terms for gays in Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza. Specific laws against homosexuality exist in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, and Libya. The 2001 amendment to Iraq’s 1990 Penal Code made homosexual behavior between consenting adults a crime. The 1991 Iranian Constitution allows execution for sodomy. Specifically, Articles 108-113: “Sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Sharia judge to decide.” A documented testimony from a 19-year old Palestinian homosexual claims that he had been pressured by the al-Aqua Martyr’s Brigade to become a suicide bomber in order to purge his moral guilt.
Religious authority supports and even promotes these practices. According to prominent Muslim clerics, Sharia law mandates the death penalty for homosexuality. Among such authority, Cleric Sheikh Ali Amar offers that “Muslims believe that homosexual behavior is an offence against Islam and anyone who behaves this way should be sentenced to death without compassion.” Egyptian scholar Shaykh Dr. Yusuf Abdahhal al-Qaradawi, director of the Sunna and Sira Council, Qatar, cites Sharia law to declare that a Qatari Prince, ousted from political office on grounds of homosexuality, should be stoned to death. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraqis’ Shitte Muslims concurs. Kuwaiti cleric Dr. Sa’d al-‘Inzi cites article 203 of the Kuwaiti Penal Code as sanctioning death: “According to Islamic law, a homosexual should be thrown from a tall building.”
Gender discrimination – wife beating, honor killing, and genital mutilation – against women is sanctioned by both legal and religious authority and has been planted in varying degrees into cultural habits and institutions. The legitimacy and justification for wife beating is found in the Surra 4:34: "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others … good women are therefore obedient … and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them."
Various clerical interpretations of this Surra range from beating doesn’t mean physical, to beating means only open-handed slaps, to beating must avoid delicate parts of the body, to beating is a beating. That clerics differ on this matter is acknowledged, but the legitimacy of and justification for wife beating is nonetheless appreciated. Dr. Muhammas al-Hajj, lecturer on Islamic faith at the University of Jordan argues that the central issue is guardianship of the family and that domination and subordination are properly gender based. Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, answers the question “Does Islam allow wife beating?” by replying that wife beating is permissible in cases of persistent insubordination.
Algerian-born Iman Abdel Qader Bouziane was expelled from France for advocating wife beating. Professor Sabri Abd al-Rauf of Al-Azhar University argued that the beatings are intended to instill fear. Sheik abd Al-Hamid al-Muhajir explained that the Koran stipulates when a husband can beat a disobedient wife. Sheik Muhmmad al-Mussayar, an Egyptian professor at Al-Azhar University describes what kind of woman may be beaten. Sheik Yousuf al-Badri, member of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, asserts that since wife beatings are noted in the Koran and Sunna, it “means we’re allowed to beat.” Egyptian Cleric Galal al-Khatib is straightforward and blunt: “only a rod would help.”
Advocacy for female genital mutilation commands less of a consensus; its acceptance and promotion stem more from social custom than from religious instruction. But its practice in the Middle East, once thought minimal, is, in reality, widespread and expanding and a matter of much concern. The UN Commission on Human Rights, the World Health Organization, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women report that female genital mutilation has affected the lives of millions of women in Africa and the Middle East.
A 2005 UNICEF report claims an overwhelming percent of Egyptian women have undergone genital mutilation. Other sources report 60 percent for both Yemeni and Kurdish Iraqi women. There is strong circumstantial evidence of its practice in Syria and Jordan. Whether religiously prescribed or not, among rural populations most of the perpetrators and victims of female genital mutilation believe it to be religiously mandated. There is also enough authoritative religious voice to validate that view.
Clerical and government opposition to female genital mutilation is growing in the Middle East. Witness the 2006 conference at al-Azhar university sponsored by 20 esteemed clerics with its president, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi, concluding that the practice “must be considered as a criminal aggression against mankind.” Yet Professor Muhammad Shamaa of the university’s Islamic Research Academy said that “it would take a long time before such an ancient custom disappears,” and admitted about the conference: “We simply did not invite those who disagree with us.”
And many Islamic clerics and educators do disagree; among them, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who stated that “whoever finds it serving the interests of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world.” Egyptian Sheikh Mustafa al-Azhari believes that the attempt to end the practice is a Western conspiracy. Mufti Sa’id al-Hijawi of Jordan declared female circumcision to be a “noble trait accepted by Islam even though it is not a necessity.” Past rector of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Gad al-Haq noted that since the Prophet did not ban female circumcision, it was permissible. And Umdat al-Salik, e4.3, a much referred to manual of Shafi’i Islamic law, affirms that female circumcision is obligatory.
Honor killing – murder of a female who has allegedly committed an act that shamed her family – represents yet another form of violent discrimination against women. Male family members are judge and jury. The Islamist party in the Jordanian parliament condones it as part of Islam’s code. Egypt’s Ifta’ Council of al-Azhar University issued a fatwa stating that punishment for adultery should be left to the ruler. The mufti of Gaza, Sheikh Abd al-Karim Kahlut demands the death penalty. Jordanian minister of awqaf – an Islamic foundation – is more lenient arguing that “Shari’a is clear and she should be lashed eighty times. His colleague, Hamdi Murad, advises one hundred lashes for a first offence and death by stoning thereafter. In Saudi Arabia, tenth-grade textbooks teach that it is permissible to kill adulterers. Tarrad Fayiz, a Jordanian tribal leader explains its harshness: “A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure.”
In Jordan, Syria, and Morocco, specific articles of their penal codes condone honor killing. Morocco’s Article 418 states that murder and beatings by a husband or by his accomplice are excusable if his wife is discovered in the act of adultery. Syria’s Article 548 protects the husband from penalty in cases where his wife or sister engages in adultery. In Jordan, Article 340 states that: “he who discovers one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them is exempted from any penalty.”
In 2007, 21 honor killings were reported in the West Bank and 25 in Gaza. Saed Taha, dean of Qalqilya’s College of Islamic Law, criticized these killings on the grounds that they were not administered according to Sharia law. Although articles 19, 22, and 23 of the 2003 revised Constitution of the State of Palestine specify that women shall have the same rights, liberties, and duties of men, article 7 specifies that Sharia law is the main source of all civil and religious matters.
Most Middle Eastern countries adopted the 2006 treaty concerning discrimination against women, sponsored by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] but with provisos. In the case of Egypt, the proviso addresses the relationship between positive law and the Islamic Sharia: “The Egyptian legal system is based on a number of legislative levels, of which constitutional principles and precepts are foremost, followed by legal principles. The legislative authority is therefore bound to apply constitutional principles when enacting laws. Any violation by the legislative authorities of these principles would be considered as flouting the Constitution. In article 2, the Constitution states that the principles of the Islamic Shariah are the primary source of legislation. They are an obligation by which the legislative authorities are bound when issuing laws.” In substance, then, the proviso undermines the force of the treaty
Express Your Concern
The referenced material offered here is obviously only the tip of the discrimination iceberg. As academics who have already been a signatory to a petition declaring concern for human rights abuses practiced in one country of the Middle East, please exercise this privilege to express your concern now about the widely practiced and condoned discrimination against women, gays and lesbians in the many countries of that same region. Please join us by affirming this call for support. You can sign on to this statement by replying to this email with a one-word reply: YES. Please do so as soon as possible.
University of Illinois,