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Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Right Way to Beat Your Wife 

If you've been following the recent posts by Riverbend at Baghdad Burning, then you are probably already aware that attitudes toward women in the formerly-secular state of Iraq are undergoing a not-so-subtle shift. Or, as the following article from the Christian Science Monitor drily puts it, "Broadening support for sharia may not have been the anticipated outcome of the US mandate that women make up one third of the [Iraqi] national assembly":
Covered in layers of flowing black fabric that extend to the tips of her gloved hands, Jenan al-Ubaedy knows her first priority as one of some 90 women who will sit in the national assembly: implementing Islamic law.

She is quick to tick off what sharia will mean for married women. "[The husband] can beat his wife but not in a forceful way, leaving no mark. If he should leave a mark, he will pay," she says of a system she supports. "He can beat her when she is not obeying him in his rights. We want her to be educated enough that she will not force him to beat her, and if he beats her with no right, we want her to be strong enough to go to the police" . . . .

In the nearly two years since the regime of Saddam Hussein fell, pressure has grown for women to conform to stricter Islamic standards. "The Baath Party, with all the things many believe they did wrong, [still ensured that Iraqi] women had the most rights in the region," says Rime Allaf, an associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, where she is researching women's status in Iraq. "Now, a lot of women are being very careful about how they dress. They are being told by perfect strangers, 'You need to cover your hair ... [and] your arms.'"

Umm Sermat, who also would not give her full name, thinks Islamic law is a good idea but wants the protections she had under Mr. Hussein's secular regime. "The law [then] was with the women 100 percent," she says. A man "had to get his wife's permission to take a second wife. They should share the [assets] if the wife is separated. In a divorce, they have to prepare a furnished house for her.... We don't want a sharia constitution like the Iranian model. We're not worried about [UIA] being like Iran because it also includes (Ahmed) Chalabi, a Shiite" who is secular.

But Umm Hibba jumps in with concerns that Iran's theocracy is making Iraq more conservative. "They said what I am wearing is devil clothes," she says of the time she was recently turned away from the main mosque in Baghdad's Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood. She pulls incredulously at the shapeless black robe that got her banned because openings between the fasteners revealed flashes of the long formless dress underneath.

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