Sep 29, 2014

    Silence on ISIS' abuse of women is deafening

    UNITED States President Barack Obama was at the United Nations last week, urging young people across the Muslim world to reject benighted values, even as America clambers into bed with a bunch of Middle East potentates who espouse benighted values.

    The President has been working hard to get a coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, because they provide cover in the fight against the brutal, metastasising threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

    Mr Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have cajoled this motley crew for the coalition, even though in countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, powerful elements are financing some of the same terrorists that their governments have been enlisted to fight.

    When American presidents rain down bombs on Muslim countries, they use the awful treatment of women in the Middle East as one of their justifications.

    In his speech at the UN, Mr Obama said he wanted "to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world" and urged them to create "genuine" civil societies.

    "Where women are full participants in a country's politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed," he said. "And that's why we support the participation of women in parliaments and peace processes, schools and the economy."

    Yet, because we need the regressive rulers in the Persian Gulf to sell us oil, buy our fighter jets, house our fleets and drones, and give us cover in our war coalitions, we don't really speak out against their human-rights violations and degradation of women as much as we should.

    As the US woos the Arab coalition, Arab leaders are not speaking out against the atrocities of ISIS against women.

    "It is the obligation and duty of Arab countries - where men always feel so possessive over their mother, their wife, their daughter - to condemn ISIS' violence against women," said Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East programme at the Wilson Center. "Why don't they say a word?"

    As ISIS rampages like a flesh-eating virus through the region, it has been targeting professional women.

    An Iraqi lawyer who worked to promote women's rights was grabbed from her home the week before last, after she posted complaints on her Facebook page about ISIS' "barbaric" destruction of mosques and shrines in Mosul.

    Sameera Salih Ali Al-Nuaimy was tortured for days; then a masked firing squad executed her last Monday - and then told her family she could not have a funeral.

    In a Wall Street Journal piece, Dr Esfandiari toted up a litany of horrors, including the tragic story of a woman who was tied to a tree, naked, and repeatedly raped by ISIS fighters, who are "rewarded" with droit du seigneur as they assault and pillage their way towards an Islamic caliphate.

    Even though ISIS propaganda emphasises protecting the morality of women, she said it has taken little girls playing with dolls and married them off to fighters three times older, set up "marriage bureaus" in captured Syrian towns to recruit virgins and widows to marry fighters, and tied together women with rope as though "they were being led to a makeshift slave market".

    She told me: "It's a strategy to shame women and undermine their families. In our part of the world, a woman who has been raped feels ashamed, her family feels ashamed.

    "Some commit suicide. Others become pregnant and are ostracised by their family and community."

    Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that "our ability to influence the position or status of women in the Arab or Muslim world is limited".

    Dr Haass said the Arab coalition is necessary because "our priority has got to be to push back and weaken ISIS.

    He concluded: "Even if we're not in a position to give women the better life that they deserve, we are in a position to save many of them from what ISIS would do to them. And that's significant."