A nineteen year old woman known only as G is in the midst of an unimaginably horrible ordeal in Saudi Arabia. She was blackmailed into getting into a car with a man who was not a relation. He kidnapped her, and then he and six other men gang-raped her. She was a Shia, it seems, the rapists Wahhabis, or Saudi Sunnis. That only makes their crimes more primitive and objectionable. The rapists confessed, but were then sentenced to short prison terms. Saudi justice is in the hands of clerics who imagine themselves to be acting on Islamic principles. The unfortunate woman was condemned to ninety lashes because she had been in the company of men not members of her family. She appealed. The court then increased her punishment to jail, a fine and 200 lashes. The Saudi Bar Association (yes, there is such a phantom thing) then suspended her lawyer, Abd al-Rahman al-Lahem, a well-known civil rights advocate, for bringing this case to public attention through the media.
Meanwhile Gillian Gibbons, aged 54 and British, is undergoing her ordeal in Khartoum. Only a few weeks ago, she went to teach there at an international school. Before her arrival, her six and seven year old pupils had given the name Muhammad to a teddy bear whose adventures they were supposed to write up as an exercise. Accused of insulting the Prophet, Mrs Gibbons has been arrested and sentenced to forty lashes. Crowds of bearded fundamentalists are demonstrating outside the prison, and some are calling for her death. This is taking place in the city where an earlier generation of fundamentalists hacked to death General Gordon, and the British consequently sent an expedition to take over the country and put an end to the butcher’s work. When Field Marshal Kitchener took his title, he became Kitchener of Khartoum. But let all that pass. The current British foreign secretary is so upset that he has called in the Sudanese ambassador, and suggests that he might cut off aid, but not really, he doesn’t want to rock the boat as he is so terribly concerned about the plight of Darfur. Oh, how his brow wrinkles.
What is happening to these two women shames Islam and every Muslim who allows these cruelties to be done in the name of religious faith. What’s more, the whole of humankind is shamed to be idle spectators doing nothing about such grotesque injustices. Where are the demonstrators shouting outside every Saudi and Sudanese embassy and office? Where are the defenders of women’s rights? Why are our governments so supine? Why are we all pretending that there’s not much we can do to come to the aid of these two victims of customs and fantasies lingering from the Dark Ages? These lashes may maim, and in G’s case could be fatal. And if these disgusting punishments are carried out, we can be sure that the fundamentalists will conclude that they can do as they like, and worse, much worse, will follow.