When the subject of Islamic dress comes up, it's often phrased the way President Obama put it in his Cairo speech -- as women's right to wear what they want. Hear, hear. But what about those pesky laws that force women to wear what the theocrats want-- or face arrest and a beating? Iran and Saudi Arabia are not the only countries with a government-enforced dress code.
As has been widely reported, 13 Sudanese girls and women listening to music in a Khartoum cafe were arrested on July 3-- for wearing trousers. Never mind that that in much of the Muslim world, for example Pakistan and Turkey, pants are normal traditional garb. Article 152 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits "indecency" in dress without defining what it is, was invoked in all its rigor. 1o of the 13 women accepted a plea bargain -- ten lashes and a fine. But journalist and UN press officer Lubna Hussein, and two others insisted on going to trial-- even though losing in court will mean forty lashes and a much bigger fine. In fact, Hussein resigned her UN post so as not to have immunity -- she wants to win this battle on principle, not a technicality, and have the dress-code law abolished. ""I will take my case to the upper court, even to the constitutional court," she told The Guardian . "And if they find me guilty, I am ready to receive not only 40 lashes, I am ready for 40,000 lashes. If all women must be flogged for what they wear, I am ready to be flogged 40,000 times."
What a hero! I'm in awe of this woman's courage and daring. Her case has given heart to Sudanese women and men sick of the harsh Sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since l989, when President Omar al-Bashir seized power in a coup. Large demonstrations outside the courthouse in support of the women were put down violently by police. The story of Lubna Hussein has made headlines around the world.
As usual, Western feminists have beeen charged with going AWOL on human rights for Muslim women , most recently by Susie Mesure in The Independent, who accused "the sisterhood" of being overly concerned with their own trivial issues, like sexist men's magazines and "perceived discrimination in the workplace." Before this canard hardens into conventional wisdom, let me note that in fact, there's been a fair amount of coverage of Lubna Hussein in the feminist blogosphere, including The Women's Media Center, The F-Word and -- wait for it -- Jezebel, Gawker's much maligned potty-mouthed younger sister.
But of course there can always be more.
You can sign the Arab Women's Connection petition supporting Lubna Hussein here.