Chesler Chronicles

Sudanese Feminist Hero Forced into Hiding

Flogging Delayed, New Trial Date Ordered

Today, Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein went to receive her 40 lashes in Khartoum. The world press and scores of female supporters were watching. I was watching, so to speak, from afar. However, the judge delayed her trial until September 7th. He first wants to consult the Foreign Ministry on “whether al-Hussein is immune from the charges because she was formerly a United Nations employee.”

The delay disapointed al-Hussein. She refused to claim any UN immunity. Al-Hussein was ready to receive “40,000 lashes if such punishment was found to be constitutional.” She is quoted as saying some fairly thrilling, very bold things:

I’m ready for anything to happen. I’m absolutely not afraid of the verdict…Tens of thousands of women and girls have been whipped for their clothes these last 20 years. It’s not rare in Sudan…I want people to know. I want these women’s voices to be heard.”

Whip me if you dare…Flogging is a terrible thing, very painful and a humiliation for the victim. But I am not afraid of being flogged. I will not back down. I want to stand up for the right of women, and now the eyes of the world are on this case I have a chance to draw attention to the plight of women in Sudan…The acts of this regime have no connection with the real Islam.”

What the Hell happened? What great sin did al-Hussein commit?

On July 3, 2009, Sudan’s Morality police arrested al-Hussein for wearing trousers that were allegedly “too tight” and an allegedly “too-transparent” blouse. The fact that she was also wearing a headscarf did not spare her. They publicly leered, menaced, humiliated, and then arrested her and twelve or thirteen other women journalists, mainly Christians from the south, in a restaurant. The police beat them all about the head while in custody, then sentenced the women to ten to forty lashes in public for the crime of “indecent clothing.”

Ten women, mainly Christians who live in the south where Shari’ah law does not even apply, opted to receive ten lashes. Al-Hussein appealed and then invited 500 people to watch her sentencing and flogging.

Hussein, a widow, refused to plead guilty. She was put in a cell together with men and forced to crouch down between the legs of the morality police on the way to jail—not very Islamic behavior in her view. Hussein does not believe that the Koran or hadith justify flogging a woman or that trousers are religiously forbidden to women. Al-Hussein says:

“These laws were made by this current regime which uses it to humiliate the people and especially the women. These tyrants are here to distort the real image of Islam.”

She opposes Article 152 of Sudanese law which mandates 40 lashes for someone who “commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing.”

Lubna al-Hussein’s bravery is spectacular. Hussein understands that she is dealing with the same rogue regime that has systematically been perpetuating genocide and “gender cleansing” (repeated, public gang-rapes) on the black African people of southern Sudan. She knows what these evil men are capable of doing and yet, despite this, perhaps because of it, she dares to expose them and to defy this regime.

Please recall that the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is the first head of state to face an international arrest warrant for war crimes.

If al-Hussein is right about the Koran, then surely the country and the world’s major imams and mullahs will come forward and support her. I rather doubt this will happen. But, it would be a grand opportunity for moderate religious Muslims to start taking their religion back. If they remain quiet, I would hope that all the interfaith hopefuls draw the necessary conclusions.

For that matter: Will the same American government which insists on telling a sovereign Israel what it can and cannot do, weigh in on al-Hussein’s behalf? Will Western feminists come to her aid as readily as Sudanese women activists apparently have? (See their petition below).

As my friend and colleague, Barry Rubin, has just asked: Is the United States going to comment on any non-Israeli examples of injustice?

“Massive killings of civilians in Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Pakistan? Repression in Iran? Persecution of Christians in Iraq and Egypt? Murder of women for going to school and blasphemy trials in Afghanistan? Repression in Saudi Arabia (wonder if Hillary raised that with the visiting foreign minister, you think so?); torture of political prisoners in Syria (are U.S. envoys to Damascus raising this issue?); oppression in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip?”

Alas, our hero, Lubna al-Hussein, is now moving from one relative’s house to another’s. Why? Because she was threatened by a man on a motorcycle who told her “she would end up like (that) Egyptian woman who was murdered in a recent notorious case.”

This is no joking matter and I am glad she is taking this threat seriously. The motorcyclist was referring to the case of the popular Lebanese singer, Suzanne Tamim, who was found savagely slashed to death with an eight inch stab wound across her throat in her luxury apartment in Dubai. Her wealthy, married Egyptian boyfriend, Hisham Talaat Moustafa, paid someone to kill her after she dared to break up with him. Moustafa is now on trial for her murder.

Well, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is concerned about al-Hussein’s case and has said that “Flogging is against international human rights standards.”

On July 28th, Sudanese Women Activists signed a petition which urged the Government of Sudan to:

• Cease the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments

• Guarantee the procedural rights of women accessing the justice system at all times

• Guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with the National Interim Constitution (NIC) and regional and international human rights standards.

• Commit to the promotion of positive culture of respecting women of Sudan and enhance their contribution and protect their wellbeing through adopting laws and polices in accordance with Sudan constitutions and international and regional obligations

• Support and facilitate women access to the justice system safely and with dignity, through provision of training and education on the rights of women to law enforcement and other Sudan justice system mechanisms.

Yon dastardly Rogues: The world is watching what you do.