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Rape in Islam: Blaming the Victim
By Robert Spencer | January 23, 2003

"For almost a year," observes Edward Said in this weeks edition of Cairos
Al-Ahram Weekly, "American politicians, regional experts, administration officials, journalists have repeated the charges that have become standard fare so far as Islam and the Arabs are concerned. . . . To todays practically unanimous chorus has been added the authority of the United Nations Human Development Report on the Arab world which certified that Arabs dramatically lag behind the rest of the world in democracy, knowledge, and womens rights."

Said has no more patience for this sort of thing than he did when he wrote Orientalism and Covering Islam, the twin towers of todays academic Islamophilia. He acidly dismisses the criticisms as "vague re-cycled Orientalist clichés of the kind repeated by a tireless mediocrity like Bernard Lewis."

Yet just as Saids lament appeared, the French businesswoman Touria Tiouli went to court in the United Arab Emirates. Heedlessly risking the recycling of vague Orientalist clichés, Dubai officials have turned her charge that she was raped by three men on its head and accused her of zina, sexual activity outside marriage. In Dubai, a bastion of moderate Islam, this charge isnt punishable by stoning, as it is in more hard-line Muslim countries it only carries an 18-month jail sentence.

Tiouli continues to fight: on Sunday she entered a not guilty plea. To the claims of her attackers that she was a willing participant and, in fact, a prostitute whom they duly paid, she replied simply, "My lawyer will prove I did not consent. If I had consented, I would not have brought the case."

Indeed, its hard to imagine a prostitute in Dubai going to the police willingly under any circumstances. For Sharia courts all over the Islamic world seem only too willing to reinforce the stereotypes of Islam that Said deplores, particularly where women are concerned. In Nigeria, a woman named Sufiyatu Huseini suffered through circumstances remarkably similar to Tioulis. She said she was raped, but the man she accused denied it, and instead Huseini was charged with adultery.

Nigeria is no moderate Dubai: Huseini faced death by stoning until the verdict was overturned under international pressure. Countless other women in similar situations have already been stoned to death or jailed. According to Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian advocacy group for Muslim women, in Pakistan "three out of four women in prison . . . are rape victims."

This blame-the-victim mentality should be the worst nightmare of American feminists, were it not for the fact that they view it through rosy multiculturalist glasses. But does it really represent the hijacking of the Religion of Peace on a grand scale?

Not quite. These cases all unfolded according to the classic directives of the Sharia.

Traditional Islamic law, which is still very much in force in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, most (if not all) of post-Taliban Afghanistan, and elsewhere, completely disregards the testimony of women in cases of a sexual nature. Aside from physical evidence, the only way to establish rape is by the testimony of four male witnesses (who, by the way, must be Muslims in good standing) who actually saw the act itself. Without these witnesses and a confession from the accused rapist, the victim will stand condemned by her very accusation: she wasnt raped, so she must be guilty of zina.

Moreover, the prosecution has been careful to point out that Tiouli didnt call for help. "According to Islamic Sharia," says the Nigerian Imam Mallam Muhammad Sani Isa, "it cannot be considered rape unless you asked for help."

According to Aliyu Abubakar Sanyinna, the attorney general of Nigerias Zamfara state (where Huseini went through her ordeal), this codified miscarriage of justice is "the law of Allah. By executing anybody that is convicted under Islamic law, we are just complying with the laws of Allah, so we dont have anything to worry about."

If like minds prevail next week in Dubai when the court issues a verdict in Tioulis case, she should resign herself to spending the next eighteen months behind bars.

There is yet hope. International indignation resulted in the overturning of Huseinis death sentence and the commutation of a similar ruling against an 18-year-old Christian girl in Sudan, Abok Alfa Akok, to 75 lashes. Facing another worldwide outcry, the Nigerian government promised in October to end stonings for adultery. Also bowing to internal and external pressure, even the Islamic Republic of Iran declared early this year that it too was ending the practice.

All this is good, but it isnt enough. Rape victims in these newly enlightened nations may not have to fear stoning but they still may face lighter sentences, as does Tiouli. They will continue to receive no sympathy for their ordeal or any honest investigation of the charges they have made.

Until the Sharia itself undergoes a thoroughgoing reevaluation, this is probably the best we can hope for. Thus however much Edward Said and his ilk may gnash their teeth those who traffic in "vague re-cycled Orientalist clichés" about womens rights in the Islamic world must keep up the pressure.

Robert Spencer is author of "Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith" (Encounter Books). A long-time student of Islam, Spencer is working on a new book, "Onward Muslim Soldiers: Jihad Then and Now", and is a frequent contributor to a broad spectrum of publications. He is an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.