I am a Muslim woman and I have been deeply impacted by the issue of rape. I live in an African country where 90% of young girls lose their virginity through rape. Yes, 90%.
On my continent, rape is a weapon of war. I wrote about it in my first novel. To do that, I had to do some research which gave me nightmares and panic attacks. I dreamed of rivers of deformed and broken girls, pieces of them being washed away by the rain. I have not been able to write fiction since.
I was also to learn that there are many Muslim men sitting in jail for leaving to fight for the honour of their sisters in Islam who were being raped in Bosnia and Syria and other conflict regions of the world. These men became entrapped in the “war on terror” paradigm and instead of saviours were labelled terrorists. Rape of this scale and brutality continues to this day in Myanmar, Ethiopia, and the CAR, among other countries.
Closer to home, date rape on university campuses here is so common and permitted, that when my best friend fell victim to it we experienced a level of denial from university authorities that was a blatant cover-up. This still happens to this day, and all over the world.
The perpetrator in question was a prominent sportsman and his family was well connected. I will not wound her again and share the details of the assault, but my friend has had to live with these memories for her entire life.
She is married with children now, but her scars remain, and her husband, too, has been deeply hurt by it even though he had nothing to do with it. This rape, too, was her first time.
You see, there is this thing about darkness … if you don’t stop it, it spreads.
This denial and protection of the perpetrator fueled many years of my own feminist readings, explorations and rallying against men in general. It seeded a profound cynicism in me for powerful men, especially for those purporting to belong to an establishment – sports, politics, medical, literary – of any kind.
This cynicism remains strongly in me and sometimes I have to fight it. You see, anger this powerful can become an enemy. It can push you away from your faith, from your Islam.
As a result, it has taken me some time to gather my thoughts about the Tariq Ramadan case and to speak up.
But I want to tell you about the event that eventually made me say something.
It was an apparently small event. But I believe its significance is huge, though it has not been adequately captured yet.
Two women and the destruction of the sanctity of the female body
First, a note on women and rape.
What bothered me firstly about this case was the way in which the sordid details of the alleged assaults were published far and wide in a manner that degraded and objectified the sanctity and privacy of the female body. This has been matched only in gore by the pornography industry, and in some cases, the film industry itself.
No thought was given to the impact these images could have had on women who have been assaulted and raped.
Then I was irritated by the questionable right-wing connections and apparent scheming of the alleged victim known as “Christelle”.
I was also disturbed by the admittedly shifting story coming from the first victim Henda Ayari.
Regardless of whether their allegations are true or not – and this remains to be tested in an objective and transparent court – the very fact that these women were alleging such horror and in such detail to the world’s media was testimony to a profound anger and deep mental suffering.
This saddened me and made me think.
When my friend was raped, she was very hesitant to come forward and even talk to a psychologist in private about what had happened to her. In fact, it took her over twenty years, and even then, she gave the summarised version. And she does not come from a community where these things are customarily buried. Her heritage is Anglo-Saxon.
You see, no matter what community you come from, no matter what your custom, talking about rape – let alone publishing it for all the world to see – is like stripping yourself bare and undergoing a secondary assault. This happens each time it is told. In some cases, victims even experience the physical pain all over again.
That is why the vast majority of women and girls never, ever speak about what has happened to them – to anyone, let alone the media. And if they do, they speak in vague terms. It is very hard to be exact.
I was surprised that these women, who had apparently gone through so much, could relate it so widely and in such graphic detail, all over the world and in the glossiest magazines like Vanity Fair and their own books, delivering images of terrible violation of the female form with apparent ease.
Moreover, there is the question of honouring themselves. The women in Myanmar, the CAR, Syria and other places where rape is brutal and gory do not describe willingly and in detail what has been done to them. They may do it after pushing by insensitive journalists and aid workers. But it is not willingly divulged. I know this from my work.
Nor do they unveil and pose for photographs. They do not get book deals, and my guess is they probably wouldn’t want them. Being paid to mention such unmentionable things, with their bodies as the torn pages, would surely horrify them.
What a vexing situation to be put into. It is like a second violation, this time by capitalism and politics.
I questioned the implications and meaning of all of this publicity, and I spoke about it to my friends. There were arguments for and against what I was saying. But I felt I had to mention the thoughts in my head.
Time passed and Tariq Ramadan’s conditioned worsened. He was transferred to solitary confinement with no medical attention. It became apparent to me that he was being tortured.
Coming from the continent that I do with its history with the French government, I was not surprised. However, Muslims in Europe were shocked, and rightly so.
His family pleaded for assistance and a campaign began, which is gathering support.
The old man in a corridor
Then what finally got to me most was this.
I want you to picture very clearly the image of a man. He is crippled now due to lack of medical attention for multiple sclerosis. He is walking with a walker. He was once a young man, a strong man.
This man has lost his hair and he is stooped and bent. His hands shake and his speech is slurred. His thoughts, once clear and sharp, are jumbled.
The man is moving slowly, perhaps tremblingly, down the corridor of a courthouse. He is alone. He is facing charges that he has continually denied and which, for the most part, he has had to confront with a very small party of support behind him, despite his millions of “followers”.
You see, for this man, the truth rings very true: when tragedy strikes, real friends are few.
The man stops. In weakness and fatigue, his knees buckle. It has been a great effort to attend this court today.
Then, knees crumpling, he falls to the floor.
It is not a dramatic fall. In fact, it is rather silent.
He lies there on the cold floor. His eyes close, his arms fall limply down. Perhaps he is crying. Perhaps he is praying.
He lies there for two hours.
People walk past him and look at him with distaste. Nobody stops to help him. He does not cry out. He waits. He prays.
People, what is going on here?
This happened to Tariq Ramadan. It happened in the corridor of a courthouse of one of the world’s supposedly greatest nations: France.
Those who are alive to metaphors and imagery will understand the significance of this event. Those who believe in the way Allah shows us things, will not hesitate to see what is happening here.
This event, far from great and publicised for all to see, happened as some historic events do: quietly.
But it is for me perhaps the greatest metaphor of this so-called ‘War on Terror’ and the impact it is having on our humanity.
In this form of a man who despite the accusations against him, always criticised terrorism vehemently, argued passionately and astutely for justice, never refused a request from CAGE to support them and their clients, and ran circles around some of France’s greatest intellectuals purely because he managed to balance vast secular knowledge with an increasingly outspoken Islamic wisdom – in this form of him, still uncharged, untried, lying on the floor of courthouse almost dead from the way he has been treated, still denying what all and sundry are saying of him, here is a sign of where we are as humanity.
And it is very disturbing.
Through the case of Tariq Ramadan, the lack of due process, the doubt cast on the allegations, the torture, the French justice system is itself crumbling. This is certain, and we know it.
But in our silence, so is our humanity.
We cannot let this happen.
Even if my best friend’s perpetrator was going through such a thing, I am certain I would stop and help him stand up. I know for a fact she would too.
You see, it is the mark of balance, of healing, that we honour justice, even when the accused person has harmed you greatly.
Otherwise, we only follow pain with more pain.
We, as a human race, don’t get anywhere.
It is the mark of humanity, of breaking the cycle of pain, to allow anyone accused of anything, no matter how heinous a crime, to be able to defend themselves in a fair trial, and not be tortured into a dishonest surrender, or death.
Those who do not give others this right, have a coldness and an anger inside that is something to be pitied greatly. For it overflows into their actions and it corrupts them. Their actions will come to testify against them in the greatest court of them all, the court of Allah. May Allah protect us.
Moreover, those who seek to uphold a system that allows such abuse, should be held accountable for the abuse of Ramadan – and the abuse of the hurting women who claim to be his victims.
If not now, then they will have to in the End. And by then it will be too late for reasons and excuses.
But for now, those who are silent in the face of such injustice, must be ashamed. For Allah gave us mouths to speak.
That is why I have chosen to say something at last.
This image of the old man on the floor of the courthouse stays with me. It is like a photograph, in greys, imprinted in my brain.
Pictures like these are given to us by Allah. They are a call to all of us: that this system we are living in, itself, needs to be questioned, challenged and set right.
Before it’s too late.
May Allah grant peace.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)