The Blog

Rape and "Honor" in Saudi Arabia

1:21 PM, Apr 16, 2009 • By RACHEL ABRAMS
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Saudi Arabia, modern-day: A man finds his daughter exchanging messages with a male friend on Facebook and murders her. A young woman caught sitting in a car with a man who is not her relative gets gang-raped, is then sentenced to 90 lashes (or 200, depending on which news report you read) for having appeared thus in public, and is later beaten by her brother for bringing shame on the family.

Same place, same time: The marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a 48-year-old man is upheld by a judge despite her mother's attempts to have the marriage annulled. A death-row inmate sells his 15-year-old daughter in marriage to a fellow prisoner to pay off some debts. The marriage is consummated. "It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," says Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."

Is there a connection between the ability of fathers and brothers to mete out "honor" punishments--including murder--to their daughters and sisters and the ability of grown men--men in their 60s, some of them, who may well have daughters and granddaughters of their own--to marry little girls? I say what binds them are the dual impulses to demonize and dehumanize females, and I say there's no difference between the two: Kill your own daughter? It can only be possible if you see her not (or no longer) as flesh of your flesh, but rather as a creature driven by evil inclinations to transgress your moral code. Rape a little girl? It can only be possible if you dissociate from her child-ness and her humanness--and ignore her agony--and see her as, well, a creature driven by evil inclinations to enjoy your predation.

But how in God's name--or Allah's--has this become permissible, and worse yet, codified?