AP: Afghan Women Victims of 'Stern Social Codes;' Not Sharia

May 1st, 2008 10:30 PM
The AP's Alisa Tang wrote a horrifying account of the oppression and misogyny that women face in Afghanistan. The April 30 article bucks the post-9/11 trend of the media turning a blind eye to women's issues in Muslim countries.

What's missing are two words—Islam and Sharia.

The AP article was about a country that uses religion to oppress women but which didn't mention that religion or the system of religious laws based on that religion.

Nowhere in detailing the beatings, kidnappings, honor killings and rape victims being prosecuted, or worse—being forced to marry their rapists, did the AP mention the religious system that dictates the rules that allow it all to happen. Instead, when describing the saga of an Afghan woman who says she was kidnapped from her home, raped, abused and prosecuted for leaving home without permission, the AP blamed “stern social codes” (all bold mine):

In parts of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, where stern social codes prevail, a woman who runs away from home is typically suspected of having taken a lover and can be prosecuted for adultery. Simply leaving her house without her family's permission may be deemed an offense — as in Rukhma's case — although it is not classified as such under Afghanistan's penal code.


The chief prosecutor of eastern Nangarhar province who oversaw Rukhma's case suggested she got off lightly.

"If my wife goes to the bazaar without my permission, I will kill her. This is our culture," Abdul Qayum shouted scornfully during an interview in his office in the city of Jalalabad.


When police came to arrest Yarul, they arrested her, too.

The prosecutor, Qayum, acknowledges that Rukhma was raped by [her arranged “husband”] Yarul but still maintains she shares the blame.

"She spent several nights with the man," he said. "She committed adultery. It was rape, but the woman is also guilty."

Alisa Tang and the AP deserve kudos for even raising the issue, although the media are more likely to report these problems in Iraq and Afghanistan where the United States is rebuilding the society and government. But how could they report the Afghan government's role in legitimizing misogynistic and brutal behavior without revealing that the laws and culture that prop up that system are based on Islam and Sharia?

Failing to mention Islam's role in this story would be like failing to mention the significance of religion in the Texas FLDS child abuse story or in the deaths of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Religion played a significant role in the media's coverage of those stories, however. 

I recognize that women's treatment in Afghanistan is not monolithic, nor is the religiosity. As with most religions, there isn't 100% uniformity in beliefs or behavior. Also, I'm not referring to the women who are forced to “just” wear headscarves or the Western women who wear them willingly as oppressed.

Sharia's institutional degradation of women says that they are not equal to men, and that kind of mindset guides the oppression in Afghanistan. The AP should recognize that these “stern social codes” are Islamic.

The media have traded their fact-based tradition of journalism for cultural relativism and fear of the dreaded accusation of Islamophobia.

**Photo via About.com

Lynn contributes to NewsBusters. Email tips or even complaints to tvisgoodforyou2-at-y a h o o-dot-c o m