July 26, 2011
David Suissa: The Monzur revolution
It’s a little too soon for Time magazine to name its Person of the Year, but I want to put in an early vote for Rumana Monzur, who on June 5 was brutalized by her husband in their Bangladesh home and has decided to speak out on behalf of all abused women.
I’m warning you — you might not have the stomach for this paragraph, reported by Asra Nomani in The Daily Beast on July 16: “In an account that is bone-chilling, she says her husband pressed his fingers into her eyes, gouging them out. According to Monzur, he gnawed at her cheek, lips, and nose, biting off bits of flesh, blood spilling throughout the room as Monzur flailed. Her daughter, Anusheh, stood in a corner of the room, screaming, as two household servants struggled to open the locked door. A neighbor took her to the hospital, where her parents soon arrived. The diagnosis: blindness. ‘I lost my eyes,’ says Monzur. ‘I don’t want anyone to suffer like I am suffering. It is horrible.’ ”
Apparently, Monzur had shown her husband photos on her Facebook page, and he flew into a rage, accusing her of having an affair. As Nomani writes: “In that part of the world, where shame so often defines the moral conscience of society and a family’s honor lies so often in the image of a woman’s chastity and fidelity, this could have been yet another tragic but untold story at the altar of sharam, or shame, as it’s said in Urdu.”
But shame can cut both ways: “It seemed, at first, that Monzur’s story would be a typical case of shame used as a strategy to silence a victim. But through social media, it has provided a window into a new phenomenon among Muslims and others around the world: addressing shame with shame.”
This is the quiet revolution. While the eyes of the world are still riveted on a Middle East revolution started by a Tunisian fruit peddler who burned himself to death, a “Monzur revolution” has begun: Facebook pages, YouTube videos and online petitions have sprung up in support of Rumana Monzur, an abused wife who lost her eyes and now says, “I want that no one else suffers like me.”
“Why will we be ashamed? ... They should be ashamed,” Monzur said from her hospital bed, speaking for herself and other abused Muslim women.
In fact, shame has been the main theme of the Monzur revolution.
“We have to change the very concept of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ in our societies,” said a Bangladesh colleague of Monzur. “We have to shame the perpetrators.”
But if we’re going to talk about shame, let’s be honest: There’s plenty to go around. We can start by looking in the mirror.
It’s not as if we in the Western world have been kept in the dark about the abuse of women in Muslim societies. No one has gouged our eyes out; we have closed them ourselves. We have no problem opening our eyes and yelling in indignation when Western women are abused — but what about when Muslim women are abused?
I understand the discomfort. We’re sensitive to other religions. We don’t want to be accused of being “anti-Muslim.” So we walk on eggshells. We talk about general themes like democracy, freedom and human rights, hoping, perhaps, that “women’s rights” will be swept up by the winds of change. Meanwhile, the abuse continues.
Are we not being cowards and hypocrites?
“Where’s the outrage?” Mona Eltahawy asked two years ago in the International Herald Tribune, after reporting on the subject: “July, hot and usually slow for many of us, was a month of humiliation and pain for 164 Muslim women sentenced to a public flogging for ‘crimes’ as varied and absurd as wearing trousers in public to having sex outside of marriage in countries as far afield as the Maldives, Sudan and Malaysia.”
So many of us love to rail against torture, but as Eltahawy reminds us: “Flogging is a cruel and inhuman punishment that is banned by international law and conventions like the one against torture, to which the majority of countries in the world are signatories.
“It is time for the international community to take away the pass to the international club from countries that duck out of their international obligations under the pretext of ‘cultural or religious’ reservations.”
No kidding. As a start, where are all those human rights groups who scream and yell about Gaza but keep their mouths perfectly shut when it comes to the flogging of Muslim women? And why has the liberal press not done more to expose the systemic abuse of Muslim women?
That’s why I’d love to see Rumana Monzur become Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Abusers of women the world over would be put on notice that we’re onto them and that the party’s over. That the world will no longer “stand idly by.” We will make it clear that our beef is not against Islam, but against the abuse of women, which is a mark of shame under any culture or religion.
“I don’t want anyone to keep secrets, things like this,” Monzur says about other abused women.
She might just as well have been speaking about us.