November 21, 2009
The Canberra Times & The National Times

Mad dog’s Muslim rant exposes hidden pain

So the mad dog of the Middle East is after Berlusconi’s beauties. And not just one or two high paid hookers. Colonel Gaddafi wants them in their hundreds and he’s happy to pay around 50 Euro’s a piece. Which sounds cheap, if it’s sex he’s after; but he’s not. He’s after the soul of their sex.

The story doing the international rounds this week about the crazy Libyan despot’s attempts to convert Italian women to Islam is funny. But like much tragi-comedy, beneath the slapstick lurks something that makes us very uncomfortable, even while we laugh.

Having ruled his fiefdom with unchallenged power for some 40 years, Gaddafi remains utterly contemptuous of the West; its traditions, rule of law, and its various religions. Most importantly, he is contemptuous of Western women.

He ranted like a demented fool during his last appearance in the US, demanding to know who killed JFK. And at an international gathering earlier this year he roared into the microphone that he was the one and only “king of kings of Africa and imam of Muslims”.

But this week, while attending a United Nations global food summit, Gaddafi grabbed the headlines not for raving, but for chasing girls. On the face of it that’s hardly shocking, particularly given the craggy faced 67 year old tyrant insists on travelling with 40 female bodyguards: all of whom are young, beautiful, and supposedly virgins. But it wasn’t his sexual urge that led to 200 women patiently sitting before him; it was Gaddafi’s mad and dangerous spiritual urge.

The crazed Libyan leader who celebrates appalling acts of violence and mayhem, wanted to turn these women away from their “Christian” god, and their “wrong” religion, and towards Islam instead. “God’s religion is Islam” he reportedly bellowed at the surprised young crowd.

The women had unwittingly answered an advertisement calling for attractive, “pleasant” females, aged between 18 and 35, and at least 1.7 metres tall. It also stipulated “well dressed” and no mini-skirts. Given the ad was placed by a ‘hostess’ agency, the women assumed they were to be glamorous extras at some high class party. Instead they were corralled onto buses and taken to the Libyan ambassador’s residence in Rome for a long, booming lecture by Colonal Gaddafi about Islam’s appeal to women. “It is not true that Islam is against women” he told them.

It’s tempting to make a joke about Gaddafi’s god embracing all women – except the short, unattractive ones, with drab wardrobes. But this isn’t the climate for such jokes.

Two important books by Muslim women have just crossed my desk, both highlighting – yet again – the shocking injustice and appalling treatment some Muslim women are made to suffer under the name of Islam.  In the compelling read “Cruel and Usual Punishment”, author Nonie Darwish adds her voice to the likes of Ayyan Hirsi Ali, Shirin Ebadi, Malalai Joya, and Phyllis Chesler, in detailing despicable levels of violence and humiliation against women in Muslim nations.

Yet the gender apartheid these women highlight is taken to a whole new level of fury by Wafa Sultan, in her new book “A God who hates”. This powerful and relentless repudiation of Islam’s preoccupation with violence, and its subjugation of women, is the latest addition to a growing body of literature exposing the systematic oppression of women in Muslim countries.

Sultan’s much anticipated book was released in the United States just last month. But already she has had to go into hiding for her own protection. A Syrian born psychiatrist, Sultan is famed as the first and only Muslim woman to shout at a cleric to shut up. It was back in 2006, during a live television interview telecast across the Muslim world on Al Jazeera. Fed up with being lectured, Sultan told the revered man raving at her to “Be quiet! It’s my turn!” Such a public put down of a Muslim holy man by a woman was unthinkable. No cleric wanted to hear Sultan then, and they certainly don’t want to hear her now.

Calling herself a Muslim who no longer believes in God, Sultan accuses Islam of extreme misogyny. She speaks of “A God who subjugates women in the ugliest ways possible” and calls the “authenticity of that God” into question. Sultan is forceful and unforgiving as she argues “The status of women in Muslim countries is a human catastrophe that the world has ignored for centuries and for which it is now paying a high price for ignoring”. But perhaps most controversially, she insists that women living in Muslim states have become complicit in their own oppression by accepting their inferior status.

Pulling no punches, Sultan says her Muslim sisters are like “worms” who allow themselves to be “crushed underfoot”. It’s a tough read, and far from the story about Islam that mad dog Gaddafi was preaching to the young women of Rome. And yet, according to an undercover journalist in the crowd, he won a convert. The Guardian reported that Beko Rea left the lecture saying “He convinced me”.  One can only wonder – was it the murderous tyrant’s charm, smile, or logic that won her over?

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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