Don't blame the victims of violence against women

Middle East

Hamida Ghafour

As a woman travelling and working alone in the Islamic world I am sometimes not subject to the same rules as my male colleagues, which has its advantages.

One of these perks is the security search. In a volatile region nearly every building of any importance has tight security. I have become used to walking through metal detectors, being scrutinised by heavily armed guards and the beeping of hand held scanners. But I have never been searched by a man.

Security is taken very seriously but even more serious is the offence of a man touching a woman to whom he is not related. In many cases, a woman can be shunned by her family or killed for this so-called dishonour. I have been astonished to find myself in the office of cabinet ministers on terrorist hit lists without being searched once.

Terrorist groups in Iraq have seen this benefit and one of the most despicable things I’ve read is the story of Samira Jassim, the Iraqi woman who was arrested for recruiting women to carry out suicide bombings.

Insurgents are coming under increasing crackdown but women in long flowing robes find it easy to slip through checkpoints where there are no female guards. As a result the number of female suicide bombers increased to 32 last year from eight in 2007.

What is truly revolting was Jassim’s alleged claim that she was part of a plan in which young women were raped by insurgents then sent to her for motherly advice. She told these desperate girls who face ostracism by their families that the only way out of their shame was to carry out a “martyrdom” operation. Iraqi police have reported that Jassim recruited more than 80 women although it is not clear how many of them were rape victims.

Aside from the obvious fact that Iraq needs to train more female security personnel, it would perhaps be a good time for newly elected female lawmakers to look at ending the culture of blaming women for being victims of sexual violence.


Saturday night’s Abu Dhabi Classics concert featuring the Latvian cellist Mischa Maisky was wonderful.

But I am a bit tired of a populist myth espoused by some westerners that because the arts in the Gulf are patronised by royalty or the scions of the big merchant families thatthey are somehow less authentic.

There is a belief, among my Canadian friends in particular, that visual or musical arts are only worth praising if they are created by a little known farmer in the outback with money from some struggling government arts foundation.

The Gulf countries are still in a development phase. The situation can be compared to the Renaissance in Europe, which was made possible because of the generous funding and patronage of the ruling families such as the Medicis in Italy and Francis I of France who had the time and money to devote to such luxuries.

Now the challenge for the Gulf states is to begin nurturing home grown talent.


Abu Dhabi is a small town and next time you are in a restaurant remember this tale of caution.

A friend had dinner with an American woman who is considering moving here and they were discussing the pros and cons of living in the capital.

This woman is single and she was concerned about the dating scene for western expatriates.

They were in a restaurant where diners have a sense of privacy because each table is separated by a thin wall. They began talking frankly about men, as women do when they are alone, and my friend confided about a recent relationship that went wrong.

“What don’t you like about him?” the woman asked.

My friend launched into a long rant about his character faults. He had a big ego. He made a lot of money and believed every woman should be lucky to have him. He even blamed her lack of interest in him as resulting from a lack of interest in men in general. She was now avoiding him.

Then her mobile phone rang.

It was the gentleman in question. She let the phone continue to ring.

A few seconds later she received this text message: “Speak softer, can hear u through the walls”.

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