Monday, August 11, 2008

Polygamy and Politics

The family protection bill sent to the parliament by the government has been the subject of heated discussion in Iran these past few weeks. The latest news is that the parliament ignored the judiciary’s order to stop the process and approve the bill sent by the government and return it to the pre-reformist law.

The bill, sent by government, of course, had nothing to do with protecting families. It would only have made it easier for those who wanted to have a few wives (Article 23) in that they would not need the permission of their previous wives anymore. All they need is to supply the court with their check stub to receive the marriage certificate.

No, I did not like it either and like many of women, I had an urge to scream. However my better half, Evan, invited me to calm down and reminded me that I should give the government and the parliament the benefit of doubt. “Good point.” I admitted. It was just two weeks after I performed my jury duty and I gave in easily. I should make sure the “guilty” verdict has passed the criteria of “beyond reasonable doubt.”

No one still knows why the government made the effort to change the laws from bad to worse and why the judiciary decided to stop it and why parliament ignored it. The fact of the matter is that one way or the other it does not make that much difference. What difference does it make to separate a child from her or his mother at the age of seven or one or two. (I personally think younger the better. The child would adjust better when she/he is younger.) Or what difference does it make if a husband tells his wife that he will marry tomorrow or that he married yesterday? However, it tells a lot about a culture that its law books contain laws for cruelty and its law makers are so callous to the most basic human needs. It says a lot about the people who think in this day and age that despicable behavior such as this is such an accepted norm that we need to make a law to facilitate it. It says a lot about a government that claims it has the good of its citizens in mind.

Fidel once said, “If there is a desire, there is a need.” Does a desire for a few wives presuppose a need for it? I wonder if the old caudillo would still believe the connection held if the desire was having several wives?

I tried to imagine the various cases that one feels the need for several families. It should not be difficult since I’m from a generation in which second wives were not a rare species. As a matter of fact, I’m from one of those bi-families, and a good one, at that! All were the remnant of the socio-economic conditions of the nineteen century which, thanks Heavens, do not exist any more. But really, what might urge a man towards such a backward and weird practice?

To tell the truth, the emotional calamity brought to a woman who finds her husband married to another woman and the one who finds out her husband is in a relationship with another, remains the same; both are equally painful. For the last several years I have come to sympathize more with the women in the United States whose husbands were caught in irreversible relationships with women, than those who found out their husbands took a second wife in the Islamic Republic. I cannot forget the horror I felt when one morning, on the front pages of all the newspapers was the picture of a young woman with a new born baby facing the other half of the page with a big portrait of our beloved Rev. Jesse Jackson “apologizing to his family.” I do not know how his wife took it but I would have picked up the heaviest frying pan and banged it on his head, not because of the woman and the baby but for his senseless apology. Of course, that put an end to Jesse Jackson; not my frying pan, but public opinion. He never appeared in public again and he sure deserved it, the idiot!

There have been  similar cases with one Iranian activist which brought such a horror to us all when we heard the news while celebrating Yalda with family and friends at our home. No, I did not pick up my frying pan, but my brother-in-law, with his sense of humor, rescued his old combatant hero and said very naively “there is nothing wrong with young women, they are as good as any other women. What do you have against them, constantly keeping tabs on who left his wife for a younger women?” God bless his humor, at least we could finish our dinner.

Here I’m not concerned about the advantages or disadvantages of polygamy. In my lifetime I have seen enough cases of reasonably happy polygamies and unhappy monogamies. I can also find countless advantages in polygamy if I want to. (I have no such intention, since it is barbaric.) As for unhappy monogamous relationships, we do not even need to look for it in odd places. We can just pick couples at random and find disaster easily.

I am, however, concerned with those who might possibly need to be polygamous. The divorce law made it so easy for men to nullify their former marriages and the laws of temporary marriage (sighe) made it easy to have extramarital relationship without the headache of second or third family responsibilities. I cannot come with any other than a handful of wealthy oversexed illiterates, social misfits, idiots, and the stupidest weirdoes who do not understand the meaning and the purpose of marriage or family.

Since there is not even a single public figure, including the clerics, who have more than one wife (even Mr. Gholamhossein Elham, with such a perfect wife as Mrs. Fatemeh Rajabi, whom everyone desires at least one of for a wive, remains monogamous!), I cannot conclude that this bill is motivated by some self-interest. Nor would it gain the support of some tangible majority in the upcoming election; quite the opposite—educated, and even not so educated, Iranian men find this idea so abhorrent that I do not think they would ever want to indulge in this practice even if they met the qualifications. And the poor people won’t be eligible even if they desire such idiocy. Then I’m left with the question of why and why and why?

My husband came with his voice of conscience again: Give it the benefit of the doubt! Maybe in some weird way the government is trying to protect women by this law. Aha! That is it! Women should know that it might happen to them easily, and therefore should protect themselves against it by setting the condition beforehand when they are getting married. They should have the right to divorce, and also a heavy mehriye. Will that do it? Yes? No, it would not. Article 25 of the same bill repealed taxes on “unreasonable” mehriye. Very clever, indeed very clever. (Here sharia becomes irrelevant!)

The truth of the matter is that our beloved government is not thinking of anybody’s interest at all. This law has nothing to do with protection, securing interests, promoting values, advocating principals—in short, it is not even concerned with gaining any popularity among the idiots. This law is simply about domination.

Humiliation is the foremost tactic used by the occupier. All colonial powers used it in a variety of way and the “Great Satan” the United States still using it as well. Invaders usually make a show of domination first by humiliating the defeated and by violating them. The destruction of cultural institutions and putting down of whatever is considered a source of national pride are among the most common tactics. It is not a mere accident that the invaders first set fire to the conquered people’s libraries and burnt their artifacts. The occupiers were willing to sacrifice the wealth to assert their domination. Public killings, tortures, insults, and rapes would follow to humiliate and damage the pride and honor of the defeated nation.

The fact that the Islamic Republic is enforcing these laws of sharia so gradually indicates how the implementation of religiosity is the last thing which interests them. If these laws are of any religious significance, they should have been imposed immediately after the Islamic Revolution, or within the few years while Imam Khomeini was still alive. Why wait thirty years to taste their fruit?

Progress in any culture is measured by the existence of various institutions. The position of women in society and their place in the culture of that nation is one of the foremost standard criteria measuring the degree of their advancement. Iranian history stands high in that regard among the civilizations up to the advent of Islam. The best testimony to this claim is medieval literature. (Compare the Camelot legends and their spin-offs (like Tristan und Isolde) with Vis o Ramin or Haft Peikar.)

I assume that even the statements of “God’s satisfaction is resulted from Fatima’s satisfaction” attributed to Prophet Mohammad, PBUH, was meant to reconcile the Islamic misogynistic laws to that of the Iranian view of women.

The Islamic Republic from day one tried to humiliate Iranians by asserting its domination by crushing what was so dear to our hearts, starting with our national holidays rooted in pre-Islamic Iran, putting down those that we were so proud of, such as Ferdawsi, Dr. Mosaddeq, and all those who are more associated with Iranian heritage and playing up who did have any sort of Islamic affiliation though not such a good name, Sheikh Fazlollah Nuri. They purged or killed the nationalist activists, artists, poets, and intellectuals as much as they could, just to press us by eliminating the sources of our pride to make our submission faster and easier.

Amongst the sources of our pride was the women’s rights, unique in the Middle East, and number one among the Islamic nations. The advancement of women in various artistic, scientific, professional, and academic fields was so overwhelming that it took the Islamic Republic quite a while to lower it if not completely crush it. It should not have been difficult to predict what would befall us in that regard, though still I’m puzzled as what stopped us from seeing through it.

It did not last long for the first arrow to be shot, targeting the appearance of this institution, Islamic hejab. It was not difficult to suspect that it would not stop there and it did not. Marriage age and legal age were dropped to nine. (Yes nine! It is a wonderful age to run a family!) The Family Protection Law was returned to the Dawn of the Faith, child custody was given back to the father and the father’s side of the family (though modified a little, thanks to the Shirin Ebadi’s efforts, now of course is going back to its previous stage) and then the whispering about rationing the entrance to the university on the basis of gender (which I think will happen if Ahmadinejad is re-elected,) and last week the masterpiece of all was the new bill, or “polygamy made easy.”

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Iranians abide by Iranian culture which is deeply based on the fairness and balance, with family and women as its main vital core. The shariat had to wait for centuries to have a major effect in Iran, and that only if lucky, if the Hidden Imam really appears in person today with the laws in his hands!

I’m sure our concern is not geared to the actual effect of this law, nor towards those few women who are affected by it, since they should have many other worries living with such creature. These laws of the shariat, stoning, divorce, child custody, guardianship rights in marriage, demanding sexual submission, limited movement in life (requiring permission for work and education), inheritance (thanks to Khadija, PBUH that women could maintain the right to their own property still, the only right left to them after marriage), and many others all in favor of men, are so outdated and backward that they would never find their way into our life. Indeed, none of these laws, in comparison to our secular laws, or even our traditional customs, are considered progressive or even compatible with the world we live in. Focusing and fussing about one of them is just a futile effort to lead us to more disappointments. Either we have to resist it altogether or its sources or at least if we are to fight the details we should do it in order of their priority. In either case, we have to be well aware for what reasons we are fighting these laws:

  • Is it because they do not fit into Iranian tradition and culture? 
  • Or because they produce more pain to most of the people? 
  • Or, though they do not produce pain to so many, but if they become a norm and become a widespread practice, then they produce pain to a large majority? 
  • If they become a common practice, then the order of the society would be disturbed? 
  • Or that their concepts are so grotesque and weird that they are disturbing? 
  • Or that they would make daily life messed up if they were practiced beyond isolated cases?

A long list of these questions should have been asked by each and every one of us prior to voting for the Islamic Republic. But at least now we should answer some of these questions in order to be able to stand up and protest against it.

Of course we should not expect miracles. We should not expect anybody to listen to us since we all are irrelevant. Our efforts are just to clarify for ourselves why these laws are undesirable, just in case our children and our grand children one day would come to us ask our opinions.

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