Friday, February 15, 2008

Op-Ed: State Law or Law of the Jungle? Women Tortured in Iraq & HIV+ Men Tortured in Egypt

From the Middle East Times

OP-ED: Natasha Bukhari

State Law or Law of the Jungle?

Published: February 14, 2008

Disturbing and tragic events in the Middle East are a daily occurrence, sadly enough. So much so, that we have grown accustomed to news of suicide bomb attacks killing tens of innocent bystanders in Iraq, or of many Palestinian civilians falling victim "by accident" to one of Israel's hunts for Hamas militants in Gaza.

Watching your own suffer due to injustice brought about by political struggle and occupation must be one of the worst feelings known to mankind, as it does not only remind one of one's own crippling helplessness, but it also unveils that all-so-common ugliness we humans can be capable of manifesting.

Two news items that surfaced last week provoked such feelings in me. Upon reading them, I instantly felt sick, angry, and, most of all, helpless. I was suddenly engulfed by a whirlwind of negative emotions that I, being a believer in the law of attraction, struggled to get rid of, but to no avail.

The first stomach-churning item was news of horrific images revealed to a CNN correspondent by Basra police. Reportedly, the police file revealed images of women tortured and killed for failing to adhere to "rules" imposed by secret fundamentalist groups there.

These rules, according to accounts by women living there, could be having to wear the veil, or not wearing lipstick; and not following them can lead to punishments as severe as mutilation, torture, and beheading.

While we are not unfamiliar with consequences of blind fanaticism, it is still hard to believe that a woman can be killed in front of her children for failing to wear a headscarf, just like it is hard to believe that in Basra last year 133 women were killed by anonymous perpetrators who decided to play god.

These "violations of Islamic teachings" by women led to their deaths and the destruction of their families as well as the terrorizing of a whole community.

While one would argue that such unlawful acts of persecution were brought about by the absence of any jurisdiction after the war on Iraq and the chaos that ensued afterwards, it is still very difficult to fathom the idea that the most basic human right of personal choice and living in dignity can be trampled on by your own people in the name of religion.

The second reported incident is even more condemnable, if that is at all possible, because if true, it is tantamount to persecution by the state of its own citizens, and is in no way related to the absence of the rule of law as is the case with the Basra crimes.

According to press reports, Human Rights Watch has claimed that HIV-positive Egyptian men are tortured and chained to hospital beds while awaiting homosexuality trials.

The report said that the men were forced to undergo HIV tests and were subjected to forced anal tests to "prove" their homosexuality. Some were then chained to hospital beds for hours awaiting "debauchery" trials.

The human rights group condemned these practices as "torturous," "unjust," and "ignorant." It also decried the treatment of HIV patients as criminals instead of providing them with the necessary medical attention.

Steering clear from any undue judgment of or argument regarding homosexuality, religious or otherwise, such practices by the state, which is supposed to be the protector of its citizens, are downright shocking. It is our governments that we should turn to if or when our rights are threatened. It is our judicial system that should be the guarantor of our most basic rights, and it is our medical system that we turn to for treatment when unwell, regardless of the reasons behind our ill-health.

What many in positions of power in our part of the world fail to understand is that allegiance is earned and not enforced. When any system starts unlawfully prosecuting its subjects, the repercussions will be grave. After all, the law of attraction never fails. What goes around does indeed come around.


Natasha Bukhari is a freelance journalist based in Dubai and a former press adviser to the prime minister of Jordan.

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